US: Former Venezuelan Judge Admits Cartel Involvement

Published: 12 November 2014


A former judge and ally of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has pleaded guilty to extortion, obstruction of justice and money laundering in Miami federal court. As Reuters reports, the case is part of US efforts targeting high- ranking Venezuelan government officials suspected of cooperating with drug cartels.

The former judge, Benny Palmeri-Bacchi, 46, was charged with distributing cocaine to the US, conspiracy to obstruct justice, money laundering and extortion in July 2013. He was arrested as he flew into Miami for a family visit to Disney World.

A grand jury indictment unsealed in December 2013 alleges that Palmeri-Bacchi helped Jamie Alberto Marin Zamora, a South American drug cartel boss, ship large quantities of cocaine to the US from Venezuela. Furthermore, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Palmeri-Bacchi allegedly recieved US$ 850,000 from Zamora in exchange for opening a phony case against him in Venezuela, therefore obstructing his extradition to the US.

According to The Guardian, all four of Palmeri-Bacchi's charges carry a 20-year jail sentence. He agreed to cooperate, and in return US prosecutors dropped the charge of drug trafficking and agreed to have his sentences run concurrently. He pleaded guilty on Nov. 5, and faces at least 20 years in prison.