Lawyer tells jury to acquit Venezuelan nephews at drug trial

NEW YORK (AP) " Two nephews of Venezuela's first lady should be acquitted of drug charges because a U.S. sting operation was so deeply flawed that prosecutors had to take the rare step of notifying its star witness that they were ripping up his cooperation deal because of his lies, a defense lawyer told a jury Thursday in closing arguments.

"He lied in your face!" attorney David Rody told jurors. "You saw a rare thing, a government cooperator get ripped up in court."

Rody said the testimony by the informant, Jose Santos-Pena, was crucial to the government's case against his client, Francisco Flores, and his cousin, Efrain Campo. And he said it explains why the government didn't cut ties with him after learning in April that he had been dealing drugs for the last four years even as he was being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to work as an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and others.

"Why did you have the spectacle of this man lying to you in court?" he asked rhetorically. "It's because they needed him. Their case depends on him. He is the center of this case. The case revolves around him. They still need him today."

At the end of four days of testimony by Santos-Pena on Tuesday, Assistant U.S.

Attorney Brendan Quigley notified the witness that a cooperation deal that required his honesty on the witness stand in return for a recommendation that he receive leniency at sentencing on drug charges was being torn up because he had told lies.

In his closing Thursday, Quigley urged jurors to look at other evidence in the case including statements the defendants made to federal agents and recordings of meetings before convicting them of conspiring last year to import more than 1,700 pounds of cocaine into the U.S. The men were arrested in Haiti and flown to New York last fall. The prosecutor also reminded jurors that the men are the nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores.

"The defendants thought they were above the law," he said. "They thought they could operate with impunity in Venezuela because of who they were and who they were related to. They thought they could easily make tons of money sending drugs out of the country because, as defendant Flores said, the DEA is not here and the Americans don't come in here. But they were wrong. You have their confessions. You have the recordings, the five different meetings. You have their phones."

Jurors were set to begin deliberations Friday.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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