Sunday, January 07, 2018

St. Louis prosecutors seize $1.8 million, Raytheon Hawker 800, Ferretti Yacht “Navigante" and Pershing Yacht “Panacea" linked to Venezuelan men


ST. LOUIS • Federal prosecutors here are in the process of seizing a plane, two multimillion dollar yachts and more than $1.8 million from two men linked to allegations of money laundering in Venezuela.

The U.S. Attorney’s office says that a Raytheon Hawker 800 aircraft, a 100-foot 2014 Ferretti Yacht dubbed “Navigante” and an 82-foot 2015 Pershing Yacht named “Panacea” were among the assets bought by Venezuelan nationals Hjalmar Gibelli-Gomez and Fabrizio Della Polla De-Simone.

Both have consented to the seizure and admitted the money laundering, a Dec. 22 filing in U.S. District Court in St. Louis says, adding that the assets were bought with profits from an illegal scheme to swap Venezuelan currency for U.S. dollars on the black market.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Casey declined to comment on details of the case but did say, “This was great work by the (Drug Enforcement Administration) and IRS investigators that worked on the case.”

No lawyers are listed for Gibelli and Della Polla in federal court here, and neither could be reached for comment.

Prosecutors say that Della Polla was majority owner of a poultry farm, and Gibelli is the president of an insurance company. Della Polla submitted false and inflated invoices worth more than $11 million through Gibelli’s insurance company to obtain U.S. dollars at a preferred rate through a government commission with authority to sell dollars to certain groups for limited purposes.

The Venezuelan government enacted currency controls to prevent capital flight by citizens seeking to avoid economic, political and social instability, the filing says.

Between October 2011 and April 2015, $173 million was wired into an account at Wells Fargo Advisors, which is based in St. Louis, and $160 million was wired out, spread out among more than 650 wire transfers, the filing says.

Gibelli bought the plane for $1.8 million in July 2012, using funds from the Wells Fargo account, and then paid $130,000 to a Florida company to customize it, the filing says.

The plane was seized by the U.S. government on Oct. 16, 2016.

Gibelli used $2.8 million from Wells Fargo and $4.5 million from another account in 2013 and 2014 to buy the Navigante, and Della Polla paid $6.8 million for the Panacea in 2014, the filing says.

Officials seized the Panacea in Miami on Oct. 28, 2016. Investigators tracked down the Navigante on the island of Bonaire on Sept. 11, 2017, and it has since been moved to the U.S., the filing says.

Lilly Ann Sanchez, a Miami lawyer who spent 12 years as a federal prosecutor and rose to chief of major crimes, said forfeiture cases like the one in St. Louis have become common since the Venezuelan financial crisis and Venezuela’s efforts to control inflation by keeping currency in the country.

In the last 10 or 12 years, she said, there has been a “huge swing” in the bolivar that can cost the wealthy dearly.

“One day they’ll have a million dollars, the next day ... they’ll have $100k,” she said.

That provides a lot of incentive for people to use unlicensed money transfer businesses, which can take fees of 10 to 15 percent, she said.

“So there’s a lot of money to be made, very, very quickly,” she said.

Sanchez said there are a lot of forfeiture cases being filed in major cities in Florida, Texas and New York with connections to a large number of Venezuelans.

She said that in some cases, prosecutors will seek the arrest of a person allegedly laundering money if the person travels to the U.S. or a country that will extradite the person to the U.S. Or they may agree not to prosecute if someone consents to the forfeiture of the assets.

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