Victor Mones Coro Provided Millions of Dollars in Charter Flight Services to Former Vice President Tareck El Aissami, Samark Lopez Bello, Venezuelan Supreme Court President Maikel Moreno, and Nicolás Maduro’s 2018 Campaign for President
Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Peter C. Fitzhugh, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), announced that VICTOR MONES CORO (“MONES CORO”) was sentenced today to 55 months in prison, in connection with a scheme to provide private charter flights to two prominent members of former Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s inner circle: former Venezuelan Vice President Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah (“El Aissami”) and his frontman, Samark Jose Lopez Bello (“Lopez Bello”). These flight services violated sanctions imposed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (“Kingpin Act”). MONES CORO pled guilty to a five-count Indictment on January 4, 2021, and was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “Victor Mones Coro led a concerted, sustained, multi-year scheme to provide millions of dollars’ worth of illicit flight services to Venezuelan leaders in direct contravention of our country’s sanctions regime and foreign policy. Today’s sentence serves as a reminder that, together with our law enforcement partners, we will aggressively prosecute sanctions violators to protect our national security.”
HSI Special Agent in Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh said: “HSI is instrumental in protecting the interests of the United States by leveraging our unique and expansive authorities to root out the corrupt regimes operating around the globe. For over 25 years, the HSI New York El Dorado Task Force has investigated and dismantled complex international money laundering schemes along with other serious financial crimes. Working with our law enforcement partners around the country and around the world, we continue to safeguard our financial systems from international corruption that enriches the coffers of dictators and their cohorts.”
According to the Indictment, court filings, and statements made during court proceedings:
Between February 2017 and March 2019, MONES CORO provided travel services, including private jet charters, to El Aissami and Lopez Bello, as well as their associates, in violation of OFAC sanctions. El Aissami became the vice president of Venezuela in approximately January 2017 and is currently Venezuela’s Minister of Industry and National Production. In February 2017, OFAC designated El Aissami and Lopez Bello as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers pursuant to the Kingpin Act and related regulations. As a result of OFAC’s designations, U.S. persons are generally prohibited from, among other things, engaging in transactions with or providing services to El Aissami and Lopez Bello absent authorization from OFAC.
To evade the OFAC designations, MONES CORO designed an elaborate criminal scheme to enrich himself and provide flight services to El Aissami and Lopez Bello, among other influential Venezuelans in Maduro’s inner circle, including the president of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, Maikel Moreno, who had also been previously sanctioned by OFAC. In spearheading this criminal scheme, MONES CORO used his U.S.-based company, American Charter Services (“ACS”), its planes, and its employees to fly Lopez Bello, El Aissami, and others around the world, including to foreign countries of strategic importance to the Maduro regime such as Russia and Turkey.
MONES CORO also provided flights in furtherance of Maduro’s May 2018 campaign for re-election, a corrupt campaign through which Maduro illegitimately maintained control of Venezuela. In particular, between approximately February and May 2018, MONES CORO and ACS arranged between 20 to 25 domestic Venezuelan flights for the Maduro campaign. These flights transported people, campaign materials, and food, among other things, and were coordinated with associates of El Aissami and Lopez Bello.
To avoid detection, MONES CORO and his co-conspirators, including Joselit Ramírez Camacho, Venezuela’s current Superintendent of Cryptocurrencies, engaged in various forms of subterfuge. They used code names, falsified flight manifests and invoices, communicated over encrypted messaging applications, received cash flown into the United States from Venezuela, and accepted wire transfers from a front company tied to the sanctioned Venezuelan leaders. MONES CORO also tried to cover his tracks by directing one of his pilots to lie to law enforcement.
MONES CORO perpetrated these crimes at a time when the United States and its allies were engaged in the crucial undertaking of depriving Venezuela and its leadership of resources for its malign, undemocratic, and deadly activities – including its systematic and oftentimes fatal repression of activists, its subversion of Venezuelan democratic institutions, and its corrupt plundering of Venezuela’s natural resources. Maduro and others are charged with narco-terrorism and related crimes in a Superseding Indictment also pending before Judge Hellerstein. In a separate Superseding Indictment, El Aissami, Lopez Bello, and Ramírez Camacho are charged with sanctions violations based on their roles in the scheme with MONES CORO.
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In addition to his prison sentence, MONES CORO, 52, of Florida, was sentenced to two years of supervised release and ordered to pay a fine of $250,000.
Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding efforts of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the DEA’s Special Operations Division Bilateral Investigations Unit. Ms. Strauss also thanked the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, and OFAC.
This prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sam Adelsberg and Amanda Houle are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from David Recker of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.
The charges against Maduro, El Aissami, Lopez Bello, and Ramírez Camacho are merely accusations, and those defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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