Courtroom sketch depicting Campo and Flores

The brother of Venezuela’s first lady reportedly set up an international cocaine trafficking deal that landed her nephews in US federal court, another indication that involvement in the drug trade reaches high levels of the Venezuelan government.

In a New York courtroom on September 8, US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent Sandalio Gonzalez testified that a confidential informant known as “El Sentado” received a call in October 2015 from a man named Bladimir Flores, who appears to be the brother of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores.

According to reports from investigative journalist Maibort Petit and the McClatchy news service, Gonzalez said Bladimir Flores told “El Sentado” that he would send Flores’ nephews Efrain Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas to meet with him to discuss a cocaine deal.

Court documents reviewed by InSight Crime describe “El Sentado,” also known as CW-1, as a well-known Honduran drug trafficker who began secretly cooperating with the DEA in May 2015 after being indicted on drug charges in the US.

Also in October 2015, presumably after receiving the call from Bladimir Flores, “El Sentado” contacted the DEA to alert the agency about the potential participation of the first lady’s nephews in a drug trafficking scheme.

The DEA then set up a sting operation that resulted in the nephews’ arrest in Haiti in November 2015. “El Sentado” was killed less than a month later in Honduras.

Both Flores and Campo have pleaded not guilty to the drug trafficking charges. The two men signed written confessions after their arrests, but their lawyers have argued that they were not properly informed of their rights. Prosecutors deny that this was the case.

In addition to Flores and Campo, the United States has also accused other high-level Venezuelan government figures of involvement in drug trafficking.

In August, for example, federal prosecutors unsealed drug charges against the former general director of Venezuela's anti-drugs agency, Nestor Luis Reverol Torres, and the former sub-director of that agency, Edylberto Jose Molina Molina. The next day, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro named Reverol to head the Interior Ministry.

InSight Crime Analysis

The previously unreported allegation that Cilia Flores’ brother put her nephews in touch with “El Sentado” revives questions about whether Campo and Flores were indeed the brains behind the trafficking operation, or whether other elements of the Venezuelan government were also involved. InSight Crime has previously raised the possibility that the nephews were serving as political cover for the Cartel of the Suns, a drug trafficking group composed of members of Venezuela’s security forces.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Cartel of the Suns

According to the DEA agent Gonzalez, Campo and Flores both denied that they needed to coordinate with Venezuelan government officials in order to ship drugs out of the country; they claimed they had special access to Caracas' Simón Bolívar International Airport due to their relationship with the wife of President Nicolás Maduro. However, in light of Gonzalez’s testimony, it seems increasingly implausible that Campo and Flores were the top figures in the alleged conspiracy to traffic some 800 kilograms of cocaine from Venezuela to the United States.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy. Unlike their paramilitary and drug cartel predecessors, the BACRIM maintain a diversified...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power. In rural sectors, uniformed BACRIM armed with assault rifles still patrol in...

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network. The BACRIM's roots lie in the demobilized paramilitary umbrella group the United Self-Defense...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...