Monday, July 04, 2011

Puerto Rican suspect isolated in jail for safety

July 1, 2011 By MICHAEL MELIA Associated Press (NOTE THE SOURCE)

A 66-year-old Puerto Rican nationalist who complained to supporters
about his treatment by "imperialist abusers" as he awaits trial in a
1983 robbery was held apart from other inmates for several weeks
because of safety concerns, the U.S. Marshals Service said Friday.

Norberto Gonzalez Claudio, who was captured in May in Puerto Rico,
was allowed out of his individual cell at the discretion of his
jailers at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island
until officials completed a routine assessment of potential risks to
him and other detainees, said Joseph Faughnan, the U.S. marshal for

"They don't know who he is, what his connections are," said Faughnan,
who added that Gonzalez can now mingle more freely with other
inmates. "We're responsible if somebody kills you."

Gonzalez is accused of aiding the 1983 robbery of $7 million from a
Wells Fargo armored car depot in West Hartford that was orchestrated
by Los Macheteros, a group that claimed responsibility for robberies,
murders and bombings in the 1970s and 80s in the name of Puerto Rican
independence. The FBI says he still had an active role in the
militant group when he was found living alone under a false name in
the central hills of the U.S. Caribbean territory after more than a
quarter century on the lam.

He pleaded not guilty to federal charges including bank robbery,
conspiracy and transportation of stolen money at his May 20
arraignment in U.S. District court in Hartford.

In a jailhouse letter, Gonzalez said he was confined to his cell
around the clock. When his family visited on Father's Day, he said,
he could only talk to them over a telephone.

"It clearly shows the insensitivity and indifference of these
invaders and imperialist abusers," Gonzalez wrote.

He added: "I am strong and full of fight even under these conditions."

The letter was released by a committee in Puerto Rico dedicated to
supporting Gonzalez and his older brother, Avelino, who pleaded
guilty last year to his role in the heist after more than two decades
as a fugitive. Avelino Gonzalez Claudio is serving a seven-year
sentence at a federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky.

Linda Alonso Lebron, a committee spokeswoman, said Norberto
Gonzalez's son learned about the change in his father's jail status
earlier this week. She said supporters are still upset by claims from
the inmate that jailers have confiscated his pens, food, clothing and
a blanket and that Gonzalez, who does not speak English, does not
have enough access to translators. She said the committee made up of
the inmate's family, lawyers and representatives of other groups will
meet next week to decide how to proceed with their advocacy of the
Gonzalez brothers.

"They are freedom fighters for the independence of Puerto Rico," said
Alonso, who is the niece of Lolita Lebron, an independence activist
who spent 25 years in prison for participating in a gun attack on the
U.S. Congress in 1954 and died last summer.

The 1983 heist was the biggest cash robbery in U.S. history at the
time. It was allegedly carried out by Victor Manuel Gerena, a Wells
Fargo driver recruited by Los Macheteros, and authorities say other
members of the group including Norberto Gonzalez helped to smuggle
the money out of the United States.

Prosecutors have said Los Macheteros, whose name is translated as
"Machete Wielders" or "Cane Cutters," are suspected of using the
money to finance bombings and attacks in their push for independence
for the tropical island.

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