Former State Democratic Chairman Indicted in Bribery Scheme
MIAMI (AP) _ The former chairman of Florida’s Democratic Party was indicted Tuesday on federal charges he schemed to bribe Dominican Republic officials to release airplanes confiscated for drug trafficking.
Alfredo Duran, an attorney who headed the party from 1976 to 1980, was accused of conspiracy to violate the federal Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
A former Dominican general, Joaquin Pou, 54, and his aide, Jose Guasch, 43, were arrested in the case Nov. 5, and are free on bond.
Duran’s attorney, Donald Bierman, said his client would turn himself in to a federal magistrate Wednesday.
If convicted, each of the three men face maximum sentences of five years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The federal grand jury’s indictment announced by U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen accuses the three of seeking to bribe Dominican officials to obtain the release of two planes by the Caribbean island country.
Duran, 53, strongly denied the charges in a news conference shortly after the indictment was announced.
″I am shocked and disappointed that this charge has been made,″ he said in a statement. ″I have voluntarily taken lie detector tests ... and have totally passed those tests on all issues raised in this matter.″
State Democratic Party spokeswoman Gayle Andrews said she had no doubt the indictment was political, was perhaps an effort to win the judgeship left vacant by the impeachment of former U.S. District Judge Alcee Hastings.
″You have to be a blind man not to see what’s happening here,″ Andrews said. ″It’s obviously political. Mr. Lehtinen wants to make a name for himself.″
Before being appointed U.S. attorney, Lehtinen was a GOP state senator from the Miami area. His wife, Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, was elected to Congress Nov. 7.
Dianne Cossin, a spokeswoman for Lehtinen, said, ″Any accusation that a grand jury indictment is motivated by a political agenda is false, unwarranted and shows a lack of understanding of how our legal system works.
″Today’s indictment was returned by a federal grand jury that considered the evidence. They took into consideration much information gathered by law enforcement agencies,″ she said.
According to the indictment, the three men had to pay to falsify documents to hide the planes’ drug connections and ease their release.
The indictment said Pou was paid $8,000 to smooth the release of one of the aircraft.
Duran held $12,000 in escrow, and $5,000 in cash to be paid later for that plane, the indictment said. The deal involving the second plane was never consummated, according to an affidavit by U.S. Treasury agent Gary J. Lang.
Robert Gurin, who was named in a federal arrest warrant when Pou and Guasch were picked up, was not indicted Tuesday. He has reportedly been cooperating with authorities in the case.
Gurin headed AEA Aircraft Recovery in Coral Gables, which specialized in recovering planes for owners.
According to Lang’s affidavit, the government investigated Gurin because of allegations he had bribed high-ranking military officials in the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries to recover drug planes.
The government used an informant to pose as an agent for the owner of a plane seized by the Dominican military.
Gurin told the informant that Duran would channel the money to generals of the Dominican military through his escrow account, the affidavit said.
Between February and October, the informant met with Gurin, Pou, Guasch and Duran to iron out the bribery details, the affidavit said. Most of the meetings were tape-recorded or videotaped by FBI and U.S. Customs officials.