Sentenced cut for Cuban-American in illegal weapons case
by Curt Anderson
A federal judge reduced the prison sentence Wednesday for a prominent Cuban-American businessman with connections to anti-Fidel Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles after an arsenal of weapons and high explosives was turned over to the U.S. government.
U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn cut 16 months off the sentence of Santiago Alvarez, who pleaded guilty in September to a conspiracy charge after the FBI seized a cache of military arms including a grenade launcher and machine guns. Cohn also reduced by 13 months the sentence of Osvaldo Mitat, an Alvarez employee.
Alvarez, 65, had initially been sentenced to nearly four years in prison and Mitat, also 65, to just over three years. The two men, who have served about 18 months each, smiled broadly and raised their manacled hands in triumph after the judge announced his decision to a courtroom packed with family and supporters.
Federal prosecutors agreed to recommend reduced prison terms for both men after a large amount of weaponry was surrendered earlier this year, including 200 pounds of dynamite, 14 pounds of C-4 plastic explosives, 30 automatic or semiautomatic guns, a grenade launcher and grenades and 4,000 feet of detonator cord.
The military hardware was given to the U.S. government by anonymous individuals who had likely been storing it away in homes, garages and elsewhere in the Miami area in hopes of someday launching an armed assault against Castro's communist Cuban government, defense attorneys said.
"I seriously doubt these were munitions in the hands of terrorists," said Alvarez lawyer Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney in Miami. "More than likely, they were in the hands of freedom fighters for a beautiful land 90 miles away."
Alvarez has been a longtime supporter and financial benefactor of Posada, who is blamed by Cuba for the 1976 downing of a Cuban jetliner and for a string of bombings at tourists sites in Havana in 1997. Posada, a former CIA operative who trained for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, also was convicted in a plot to assassinate Castro in Panama in 2000 but was later pardoned by Panama's president.
It was Alvarez who organized a news conference after Posada surfaced in Miami in spring 2005, which was followed by Posada's arrest on immigration charges. U.S. efforts to deport Posada have failed and a federal judge in Texas last month dismissed the immigration case, prompting the U.S. government this week to appeal.
Although labeled a terrorist by Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Posada is seen as an anticommunist hero by many in Miami's Cuban exile community. And many in Little Havana view Alvarez and Mitat in the same light, their attorneys told the judge.
"You're dealing with affable gentlemen who are committed to a great cause that went too far, and they admit that," said Robert Josefsberg, another Alvarez lawyer.
The reduction approved by Cohn was higher than the 25 percent cut recommended by federal prosecutors. Coffey described at length the destructive power of the weaponry turned over, noting that it would easily be enough to level the federal courthouse where the hearing was held.
"This would have been a treasure trove for our nation's worst enemies," Coffey said. "What would have been a treasure chest for al-Qaida is a godsend for this community."
Alvarez and Mitat still face federal contempt of court charges for refusing to testify before a grand jury in El Paso, Texas, that was investigating Posada's entry into this country. Trial in that case is set for Aug. 20.
Law enforcement officials and defense lawyers have said a grand jury in Newark, N.J., is also investigating whether there was a financial conspiracy among Cuban-Americans there to assist Posada in the 1997 bombings in Havana, one of which killed an Italian tourist. No charges have been announced in that probe, which was mostly dormant until Posada's return to the United States in 2005.
© 2007 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.
Jail terms reduced in weapons charges
by Jay Weaver
A federal judge in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday reduced the sentences for two Cuban exiles convicted on weapons charges after anonymous donors from militant groups turned over a cache of illegal weapons that included machine guns, explosives and a grenade launcher.
U.S. District Judge James Cohn said developer Santiago Alvarez and his friend, Osvaldo Mitat, ''provided substantial assistance to the government'' when their associates turned over 14 pounds of plastic explosives, 200 pounds of dynamite, 4,000 feet of detonator cord and 30 semiautomatic and automatic weapons, among other items.
''These would have been a treasure trove for our nation's worst enemies,'' Kendall Coffey, one of Alvarez's attorneys, said. ``What would have been a treasure chest for al Qaeda is a godsend for our community.''
Both Alvarez and Mitat, in their mid-60s, pleaded guilty last fall to conspiring to possess illegal weapons in a 2005 criminal case unrelated to the firearms surrender in January. Both men have maintained that the weapons were meant to help Cubans battle Fidel Castro's totalitarian government -- not to harm the United States.
Cohn reduced the men's sentences by about one-third -- more than the 25 percent reduction recommended by prosecutors. The 46-month sentence for Alvarez, a benefactor of Cuban exile militant and former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles, was reduced to 30 months. Mitat will serve 24 months instead of the 37 months he first received. With time served and good behavior, Alvarez could be free as early as the end of the year and Mitat could be out by August.
The firearms surrender was considerably larger than the nine illegal firearms seized by federal agents in fall 2005 when Alvarez and Mitat were first indicted on weapons charges in Broward County.
The unusual arms turnover has no connection to Posada's problems with federal authorities. Posada, 79, a former CIA-trained explosives expert, has been cleared by a Texas federal judge in an immigration fraud case that federal prosecutors appealed this week.
Still outstanding for Alvarez and Mitat: A trial scheduled for August on contempt charges in the grand jury's investigation of the Posada immigration case.
© 2007 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.
Reducen sentencia a empresario en caso Posada Carriles
por Curt Anderson
Un juez federal redujo el miércoles la sentencia de cárcel para un destacado empresario cubano-estadounidense vinculado con el anticastrista Luis Posada Carriles después de que dos hombres le entregaron al gobierno un arsenal de armas y explosivos.
El juez redujo en 16 meses la sentencia de Santiago Alvarez, que en septiembre se declaró culpable de un cargo de asociación delictuosa después de que el FBI incautó un alijo de armas de uso militar, incluyendo un lanzagranadas y ametralladoras. El juez también redujo en 13 meses la sentencia de Osvaldo Mitat, empleado de Alvarez.
Alvarez, de 65 años, en un principio había sido sentenciado a casi cuatro años de cárcel y Mitat, de la misma edad, a poco más de tres años. Ambos hombres, que ya llevan en prisión unos 18 meses cada uno, sonrieron ampliamente y alzaron sus manos engrilladas en señal de triunfo, después de que el juez anunció su decisión. La reducción de la sentencia fue mayor que el 25% recomendado por la fiscalía federal.
Los fiscales estuvieron de acuerdo en recomendar una disminución en las condenas de cárcel de ambos hombres después de que las autoridades recibieron una gran cantidad de armas anteriormente este año, incluyendo 90,7 kilogramos (200 libras) de dinamita, 6,3 kilos (14 libras) de explosivos plásticos tipo C-4, treinta pistolas automáticas o semiautomáticas, un lanzagranadas y granadas, y 1.219 metros (4.000 pies) de cordel para detonación.
Los pertrechos militares fueron entregados al gobierno estadounidense por individuos anónimos que probablemente los habían estado almacenando en casas, garajes y en otras partes de la zona de Miami con la esperanza de lanzar algún día un ataque armado contra el gobierno comunista de Fidel Castro en Cuba, indicaron abogados de la defensa.
"Tengo serias dudas de que éstas hayan sido municiones en manos de terroristas", dijo Kendall Coffey, abogado de Alvarez y ex fiscal federal en Miami. "Es muy probable que hayan estado en manos de luchadores por la libertad de una hermosa tierra ubicada a 90 millas (unos 144 kilómetros) de distancia".
Desde hace tiempo Alvarez ha sido partidario y benefactor financiero de Posada, al que Cuba culpa del atentado terrorista en 1976 contra un avión comercial cubano y por una serie de atentados en sitios turísticos de La Habana en 1997. Posada, ex agente de la CIA entrenado para la invasión de Bahía de los Cochinos en 1961, también fue declarado culpable en una conspiración para asesinar a Castro en Panamá en el 2000, pero posteriormente fue perdonado por el presidente panameño.
Aunque Castro y el presidente venezolano Hugo Chávez consideran a Posada como un terrorista, muchos exiliados cubanos en Miami lo consideran un héroe anticomunista. Y muchos consideran que Alvarez y Mitat también son héroes, según le dijeron sus abogados al juez.
© 2007 El Nuevo Herald. All Rights Reserved.