Saturday, February 28, 2015

Spat, intrigue over $4.5 million jet leads to arrest of Venezuelan businessman

MIAMI —   A Gulfstream jet currently parked at Miami Executive Airport appears to boast a colorful past: It was reputedly once owned by the bin Laden family of Saudi Arabia.

The sleek aircraft is now at the heart of another tale of international intrigue  ... a well-heeled fugitive from Venezuela is now under arrest in Miami accused of stealing the $4.5 million jet from a former business partner.

The suspect is Jose Avelino Goncalves of Doral, who claims he is seeking political asylum in the United States. The 49-year-old made his first appearance in a Miami-Dade court Friday, charged with a host of felony white-collar crimes, including organized scheme to defraud and grand theft.

Meanwhile, Miami-Dade police have taken control of the 22-seat, two-engine jet parked at the West Kendall airport.

"This is simply a misunderstanding between two business associates," David Fernandez, Goncalves' defense attorney, told the court on Friday. "There is nothing nefarious here."

A Miami-Dade judge nevertheless left intact a $4.5 million bond.

"He can flee the country," said Miami-Dade prosecutor Manolo Reboso.

The victim is businessman Luis Enrique Nunez-Villanueva, a former slot-machine owner who used to partner with Goncalves and his brother in Venezuela in the casino business.

Nunez-Villanueva's team of lawyers - Frank Quesada, John Priovolos and Carl Kakfa - watched from court as prosecutors explained the charges to the judge.

The two businessmen are suing each other in Miami-Dade court. Goncalves claims Nunez-Villanueva pocketed $828,129 meant to buy a helicopter. Nunez-Villanueva denies the allegations and demands his money for the jet.

Over the years, the plane has had a series of owners. According to the aviation database, the jet was owned by Texas businessman James Bath. He was a former business associate of George W. Bush, who later became president.

According to numerous books, Bath was also affiliated with the wealthy bin Laden oil family whose most notorious member, Osama, masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The plane was later sold to the bin Ladens in 1980, changing owners and registration numbers several times after that. Ultimately, records show, Nunez-Villanueva bought the plane in 2009.

Because foreigners cannot legally own planes in the United States, he created a Delaware company to be the owner, which is a common business practice. Then in October 2010, court records show, Nunez-Villanueva agreed to sell the plane to Goncalves for $4.5 million.

Gonzcalves and his brother, Domingo Goncalves, ran gaming parlors throughout Venezeula. According to Venezuelan news accounts, Domingo was arrested several years ago for running illegal gambling operations and also helped fund opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles in 2012.

His brother, Jose Goncalves, fled to Miami. Prosecutors confirmed that the international police agency Interpol lists a "red notice" for him - meaning, he is wanted for arrest in Venezuela. He is also a citizen of Portugal.

"Neither one of those countries is safe for him," Fernandez, his attorney, told the judge Friday. "He's in this country because he's been politically persecuted in another country."

The deal between Goncalves and Nunez-Villanueva called for an upfront payment of $1.5 million, and monthly payments of $500,000 afterward.

But Miami-Dade detectives say Goncalves paid only $829,196, and never made another payment. In the following months, Goncalves without Nunez-Villanueva's permission transferred the title of the plane three times.

A business associate, Miguel Rodriguez-Fambona, told detectives that he agreed to create a company in his name to hold ownership of the plane for Goncalves. The reason: Goncalves, wanted in Venezuela, did not want any assets in his names, according to the warrant.

Rodriguez-Fambona, the owner of CR Aviation at the small airport, never charged his buddy anything to store the plane in his hangar.

Last year, Goncalves transferred the title of the plane to a Venezuelan company called Feed Mix Industries - run by a well-known pilot named Andres Guillermo Schrocci Mendoza.

The plane was transferred to one more company last year. Prosecutors said Goncalves, in trying to hide his money, also transferred properties and companies into the names of his wife and children.

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