NEW YORK (Reuters) – The owners of a Florida construction equipment exporter were convicted of illegally transferring more than $100 million from businesses largely in Venezuela to U.S. and foreign bank accounts.
Luis Diaz Jr., 75, and his son, Luis Javier Diaz, 50, were found guilty late on Thursday of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business and of international money laundering by a jury in Manhattan federal court, court records showed. Prosecutors said some of the money was transferred into accounts belonging to Venezuelan government officials.
“The conviction of Luis Javier Diaz reflects how business persons can easily be unfairly ensnared by complex government regulations that are only understandable only to specialized lawyers and bureaucrats,” Jose Quinon, a lawyer for Luiz Javier Diaz, said in an email.
A lawyer for Diaz Jr. could not immediately be reached.
The two were arrested in Miami in December 2016 and charged with using their Doral, Florida-based company, Miami Equipment & Export Co, to transfer funds for a fee. Prosecutors said the company was not registered with the state of Florida or with the U.S. Treasury Department, as required by Florida and U.S. law.
The company transferred money into and through the U.S. financial system without going through licensed financial institutions, which would report any suspicious activity to authorities, prosecutors said.
Diaz Jr. and Diaz transferred more than $100 million on behalf of KCT, a large Venezuelan consortium of construction companies, according to prosecutors. They transferred the money using fake invoices to make it appear the transfers had legitimate business reasons, prosecutors said.
Miami Equipment received about $1 million in fees for carrying out the transfers, prosecutors said.
The case is one of several that U.S. authorities have brought against individuals connected to Venezuela, including Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, nephews of the country’s first lady who were convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy last year.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has called that case an instance of “U.S. imperialism.” The United States has imposed economic sanctions on Venezuela.
Venezuela, an oil-producing nation of 30 million people, is suffering a fourth year of brutal recession, with the highest inflation in the world, shortages of food and medicines, and many people having to skip meals or suffering preventable illnesses.
Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler