Puerto Rican Nationalist Tied To San Juan Attacks
By EDMUND H. MAHONY
Courant Staff Writer
Federal prosecutors tried to link Puerto Rican nationalist Avelino Gonzalez Claudio to two rocket attacks in San Juan as they began an effort Monday to have him jailed as a threat and a flight risk while he awaits trial on charges of robbing $7 million from an armored car depot in West Hartford in 1983.
The hearing began late Monday in U.S. District Court in Hartford and was scheduled to resume today. Prosecutors, who opened the contentious hearing, said they will make additional arguments today, and Gonzalez's defense team is awaiting their chance to rebut the government claims.
Prosecutors said that Gonzalez is a leader of the violent Puerto Rico pro-independence group Los Macheteros and that he played a key role in approving the group's robbery of the Wells Fargo terminal — then the largest cash robbery in U.S. history.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Henry K. Kopel said Monday that the FBI found Gonzalez's fingerprint in a mobile home used to move $2 million of the money and Victor M. Gerena, Los Machetero's inside man, to Mexico.
Gonzalez was indicted on charges related to the robbery in 1985, but disappeared until his arrest on Feb. 7. He is believed to have lived in Puerto Rico under assumed names and, at least part of the time, taught a computer course at a private school.
Prosecutors are arguing that Gonzalez should be jailed while awaiting trial because he is likely to flee and because he has a violent history that makes him a threat to public safety. Although Gonzalez had no chance to offer rebuttal arguments during Monday's truncated hearing, his chief defense lawyer, James W. Bergenn, repeatedly tried to pick apart the government's evidence — much of it from the early 1980s.
Kopel said the FBI in Puerto Rico found fingerprints matching those of Gonzalez on the arm rest of a Chevrolet parked near the site of a rocket attack on the FBI offices in the Hato Rey district of San Juan on Oct. 30, 1983. Kopel said the Chevrolet was one of two suspicious cars reported by witnesses not far from the scene of the attack.
But under combined questioning by Bergenn and U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Smith, Kopel conceded he could not conclusively tie Gonzalez's fingerprints to the attack. Kopel did say that witnesses reported seeing a suspicious character wiping fingerprints from the outside of one of the cars before fleeing.
"Maybe that person fired the rocket," Bergenn said.
Kopel also tied Gonzalez to a second rocket attack on the federal courthouse and U.S. post office building in old San Juan in 1985. He said that time, Gonzalez's fingerprints were found on part of the weapon left behind at the scene of the launch.
Contact Edmund H. Mahony at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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