September 9, 2016 / 10:24 PM / 3 years ago

Informants admit lying during U.S. probe of Venezuela first lady's nephews

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A father-son team of informants testified on Friday that they repeatedly lied to U.S. investigators in order to secretly traffic drugs, even while they were working on a narcotics probe of two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady.

Efrain Antonio Campo Flores (2nd from L) and Franqui Fancisco Flores de Freitas stand with law enforcement officers in this November 12, 2015 photo after their arrest in Port Au Prince, Haiti. Courtesy of U.S. Attorney's Office Manhattan/Handout via REUTERS

Testifying in Manhattan federal court, the informants also said they engaged in other unauthorized activities, including sleeping with prostitutes in the midst of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) probe of Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores.

Their activities trafficking drugs into the United States behind the DEA’s back led both men, key witnesses in the case, to be charged and plead guilty to narcotics-related charges as well as to having lied to authorities, they said.

The testimony came as lawyers for the nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, sought to call into question the informants’ credibility in order to have evidence gathered against their clients suppressed.

The nephews were arrested in November 2015 and are fighting U.S. charges that they worked with others to try to send 800 kilograms of cocaine from Venezuela to Honduras for importation into the United States.

The two informants at issue are a father and son who, according to testimony and court papers, posed as the Mexican boss of the Sinaloa cartel and his son while meeting with the nephews in 2015 to discuss a cocaine-trafficking venture.

Both have for years worked for the DEA and local authorities as undercover informants.

The Mexican-born 34-year-old son, referred to only as CS-2, said he has earned $400,000 as an informant. The 55-year-old father, called CS-1, said he has earned about $1 million since 2003.

But in recent years, both men said they had been working with others to bring drugs into the United States, without DEA knowledge. Authorities confronted them earlier this year, they said, and both are now in jail after pleading guilty.

“You’d been lying to them for years?” John Zach, a lawyer for Campo Flores, asked.

“Yes I did lie to them,” CS-2 said.

The informants testified that while in Caracas, they also had sex with prostitutes, one on which the son said one of the defendants paid for. The father acknowledged that he did not tell prosecutors about one of these incidents until a lunch break after his son had testified.

Asked if prosecutors had threatened to rip up his cooperation agreement as a result, the father said: “They are extremely unhappy and are going to review everything.”

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York

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