Miami professor sentenced to 6 months for Venezuela money laundering scheme

NEW YORK, Nov 16 (Reuters) - A former University of Miami professor was sentenced to six months in prison on Tuesday after pleading guilty to charges he helped launder funds embezzled from Venezuela on behalf of businessman Alex Saab.

The case attracted attention last week, when in a request for lenient sentencing attorneys for Bruce Bagley said their client was told that Saab - a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro - had met with U.S. law enforcement years ago to provide information on Maduro's socialist government.

"I'm ashamed of my irresponsible behavior," Bagley said at Tuesday's virtual hearing in Manhattan federal court.

Saab, a Colombian national, was a key intermediary for Caracas' efforts to get around U.S. sanctions before his June 2020 arrest in Cape Verde on a U.S. warrant. Saab was extradited to Miami in October, and this week pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Prosecutors said Bagley, who was arrested in November 2019, received $2.5 million from overseas accounts controlled by Saab and retained a commission. Bagley, 75, acknowledged receiving the money but said the purpose was to pay lawyers advising Saab on his cooperation with U.S. authorities.

Saab never worked against Venezuela's interests, his lawyer said last week.

Bagley's attorneys requested their client not be incarcerated due to his age and ill health. Prosecutors said Bagley should be incarcerated, arguing he had not shown "serious remorse," but nonetheless recommended a sentence below guidance of 46-57 months.

Bagley studied drug trafficking and organized crime in Latin America as an academic, which U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said factored into his decision to impose a prison sentence.

"If there was anyone in the world who knew that this kind of activity was criminal, it was Dr. Bagley," Rakoff said at the hearing.

Reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Sandra Maler

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Reports on the New York federal courts. Previously worked as a correspondent in Venezuela and Argentina.