Sunday, April 22, 2012
By Michael Melia Associated Press / April 16, 2012
HARTFORD, Conn.—A 66-year-old Puerto Rican nationalist awaiting trial in a record-setting 1983 robbery has asked to be released on bond, saying that the conditions of his detention are restricting his communication with family and trusted advisers as he considers his defense strategy.
Norberto Gonzalez Claudio, who was arrested by the FBI last May, said in documents filed Sunday that he would honor a promise to appear for trial. His attorneys named eight people in Puerto Rico who are willing to co-sign a bond and said Gonzalez has a son in Stratford, Conn., willing to act as his father's custodian.
"He understands fully that a willful failure to appear would result in very serious consequences to his family, and he will not allow that to happen," his attorneys wrote to the judge in U.S. District Court in Hartford.
Thomas Carson, a spokesman for the Connecticut U.S. attorney, said prosecutors will respond to the motion in court.
Gonzalez is accused of aiding the 1983 robbery of $7 million from a Wells Fargo armored car depot in West Hartford, Conn., 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. At the time, it was the biggest cash robbery in U.S. history.
He has been detained at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island, where he complained last year about treatment by "imperialist abusers." He says his time outside his cell has been severely restricted and he has not been allowed to meet in-person with visiting relatives.
In the court filing, he said monitoring of his prison visits and phone calls -- part of the restrictions he describes as punishment for his political viewpoints -- keep him from consulting in confidence with his family and political advisers.
"He thus has no space whatsoever to explore with those closest to him -- and in his own language -- how to best approach his defense," his lawyers wrote.
Gonzalez has pleaded not guilty to federal charges including bank robbery, conspiracy and transportation of stolen money.
He and his brother, Avelino, lived as fugitives for more than two decades before they were both arrested in recent years. Avelino Gonzalez Claudio is serving a seven-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in 2010 to his role in the heist.
The robbery 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 they believe the money was used to finance bombings and attacks in their push for independence for the U.S. Caribbean territory.