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Leader of Puerto Rican Independence Group Convicted of Robbery in Absentia

May 6, 1992

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) _ The leader of a Puerto Rican terrorist group was convicted in absentia Tuesday of masterminding the $7.1 million robbery of an armored-car depot almost a decade ago.

Filiberto Ojeda Rios jumped a $1 million bond in 1990 while awaiting trial and is believed to be hiding in Puerto Rico.

″It’s been one long judicial farce,″ said Richard Harvey, Ojeda’s attorney. ″He really has not had a trial, not even a semblance of a trial.″

Ojeda, 59, was convicted on 14 counts, including bank robbery and conspiracy, and faces a sentence of up to 255 years.

Harvey didn’t put on a defense, telling the U.S. District Court jury his client wanted to be tried in Puerto Rico because he believed he couldn’t get a fair trial in Connecticut.

Ivonne Melendez Carrion, a co-defendant who was present at the trial, also was convicted Tuesday of helping to transport some of the stolen money to Mexico. Melendez, 37, faces up to 15 years in prison.

Sentencing was scheduled for July 1 for both defendants.

″This is not a criminal trial, this is a political trial,″ Melendez said outside court.

Federal prosecutors said Los Macheteros - the machete-wielders - robbed the Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford on Sept. 12, 1983, to finance its activities.

Ojeda, the leader of Los Macheteros, was portrayed as the mastermind, along with Juan E. Segarra Palmer III. Segarra and three co-defendants were convicted in 1989. He is serving a 55-year prison sentence.

One other defendant is awaiting trial, and the Wells Fargo guard who allegedly was recruited to carry out the robbery, Victor Gerena, is on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list. Authorities say Los Macheteros helped Gerena escape to Cuba after the robbery and believe he is still there.

Only about $80,000 of the stolen money has been recovered. The government contends most of it was distributed in Puerto Rico to fund the independence movement.

Update hourly