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FBI arrests alleged Puerto Rican militant

A Puerto Rican militant sought in a 1983 Connecticut robbery — then the largest cash heist in U.S. history — was arrested Thursday on the island, the FBI said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Puerto Rican militant sought in a 1983 Connecticut robbery — then the largest cash heist in U.S. history — was arrested Thursday on the island, where he lived quietly under an assumed name, the FBI said.

Avelino Gonzalez Claudio, 65, was arrested without incident while driving in the northern town of Manati, said Luis Fraticelli, the top FBI official in the U.S. Caribbean territory.

Gonzalez, accused of belonging to the Puerto Rican nationalist group Los Macheteros, was among more than a dozen people indicted in the Sept. 12, 1983, robbery of about $7 million from a Wells Fargo armored car depot in West Hartford, Connecticut.

Fraticelli declined to say what led to the arrest or whether authorities had any leads on the two remaining fugitives: Norberto Gonzalez Claudio, a brother of the man arrested Thursday, and Victor Gerena, the robbery's alleged mastermind who is believed to be in Cuba.

"The FBI is not going to end its investigation," he said. "The FBI is going to keep searching for fugitives."

Working as a teacher
Authorities believe Gonzalez lived in Puerto Rico under the alias Jose Ortega Morales and worked as a teacher at a private school, Fraticelli said.

Gonzalez — wearing a pale yellow dress shirt and blue jeans, with his gray hair tied in a small ponytail — made an initial appearance before a judge in federal court but did not enter a plea. Another hearing was scheduled for Monday to establish his identity and determine bail.

It was not yet known when he would be extradited to Connecticut for prosecution.

"I don't think he is going to deny that he is Avelino Gonzalez Claudio," said his attorney, Juan Ramon Acevedo. "He is going to confront the charges."

The original warrant for Gonzalez was issued in 1985, on charges of obstruction of commerce by robbery and conspiracy. A second warrant came out a year later with more charges: foreign and interstate transportation of stolen money, the FBI said. He fled into hiding while on bail.

Gonzalez faces up to 275 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Los Macheteros' push for independence
Authorities have long suspected that Los Macheteros used proceeds from the robbery to finance attacks aimed at forcing the U.S. to grant Puerto Rico independence. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but cannot vote in presidential elections and have no voting representative in Congress.

The Macheteros, whose name is variously translated as the "Machete Wielders" or "Cane Cutters" are suspected in a series of such bombings and attacks staged throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Their alleged leader, Filiberto Ojeda Rios, was killed in a 2005 shootout with the FBI at a remote farmhouse in Puerto Rico.