FBI Arrests 13 in Wells Fargo Robbery
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Federal authorities say their arrest of 13 members of a group allegedly linked to a $7 million robbery and attacks on U.S. military targets sends a warning to all terrorists to give up violence.
However, leaders of the independence movement on this U.S. Caribbean island charged that the arrests and raids Friday were political harassment.
″This indictment is a signal to terrorists and their supporters that our response to their cowardly acts of violence will be decisive,″ said U.S. Attorney General Edwin M. Meese III in Washington on Friday.
Thirteen of 17 people named in an indictment stemming from the Sept. 12, 1983, armed robbery of a Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford, Conn. were arrested Friday.
FBI Director William Webster said in Washington that the suspected ringleader of the robbery, Victor M. Gerena, has been given sanctuary in Cuba by Fidel Castro’s communist government.
Meese said the indictment alleged that on June 29, 1984, one defendant ″was advised by a representative of the Cuban government whom he knew as ‘Coma’ that a portion of the stolen Wells Fargo money remained in the custody and care of the Cuban government.″
The New York-born Gerena, 27, one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, was among those indicted and still is sought. He was a former security guard at Wells Fargo, earning less than $5 an hour, and was on the armored truck that was robbed of $7,017,153.
Authorities arrested 11 suspected members of the Puerto Rican group called the Macheteros, which since 1978 has claimed responsibility for slayings of two U.S. sailors and a Puerto Rico policeman, several bombings, two rocket attacks, and the destruction of seven Puerto Rico National Guard planes.
The Macheteros, or machete wielders, claimed they helped Gerena commit the robbery and said he was a member of the group.
FBI agents also arrested a woman in Cambridge, Mass., and a man in transit at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in connection with the robbery.
The FBI said a fourteenth person, Iris Blanca Ojeda, was arrested when she allegedly assaulted a federal agent sent to arrest her husband, Filiberto Inocencio Ojeda-Rios, a popular local musician.
About 200 FBI agents moved in on the suspects before dawn, assisted by Puerto Rican policemen, witnesses said.
One FBI agent was reportedly slightly wounded in the face while making an arrest, but no other injuries were reported.
Those arrested included lawyers and journalists. They were indicted on charges ranging from interstate transportation of stolen property to bank robbery.
A federal hearing late Friday to determine whether the defendents will be held in Puerto Rico or extradited to Connecticut was recessed until Sunday morning.
Earlier, Rita Zingotita, a political activist and attorney representing three of those arrested, said armed agents had entered the homes of several other people to interrogate them.
An editor of the leftist magazine ″Critical Thought″ was among those arrested, and the home of another member of the magazine was ransacked, members of its staff said.
″In reality, they are harassing the independentistas,″ said Noel Colon Martinez, a prominent attorney and one-time gubernatorial candidate for the Puerto Rico Independence Party.
Such mainstream independence groups have denounced violence and usually fare poorly in elections. At least 85 percent of the island’s 3.2 million people usually vote for parties that favor either continuation of the present commonwealth status or U.S. statehood.
In Washington, Meese said 17 people, 16 of them Macheteros, were named in a sealed indictment returned Aug. 23 by a federal grand jury in Hartford, Conn.
James W. Greenleaf, special agent in charge of the Boston FBI office, said the 17th person was Anne Gassin, 26, who was arrested in Cambridge for her alleged involvement ″in handling, disposing and laundering of some of the stolen Wells Fargo money.″