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No bail for suspect in Wells Fargo heist

/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal magistrate ruled Tuesday that an alleged Puerto Rican militant charged in a 1983 armored car depot robbery is a flight risk and should be held without bail until his trial.

Authorities say Avelino Gonzalez-Claudio, 65, was one of more than a dozen alleged members of the Puerto Rican nationalist group Los Macheteros who planned and carried out the $7 million heist at the Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford.

The robbery was one of the largest in American history.

Gonzalez pleaded not guilty in February to 15 federal charges including robbery and conspiracy. He was arrested without incident in February in a town in Puerto Rico where had been living.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Smith agreed with federal prosecutors that there were no conditions of release that would ensure that Gonzalez would not flee. He did not rule on the government's other contention that Gonzalez is a danger to society.

Gonzalez's attorney, James Bergenn, had proposed house arrest and electronic monitoring for Gonzalez, whose relatives offered to put up family homes with equity of $500,000 to secure his bond.

Among the largest robberies
But Smith said Gonzalez had escaped prosecution for 23 years. He called the heist the largest bank robbery in American history and the charges, "incredibly serious."

When authorities arrested Gonzalez, he had been living quietly on the island under the assumed name of Jose Ortega Morales and working as a teacher at a private school, FBI officials said.

The robbery was allegedly carried out by Victor Gerena, a Wells Fargo driver recruited by the independence group. Authorities say Gerena took two co-workers hostage at gunpoint, handcuffed them and injected them with an unknown substance to disable them.

Gonzalez is accused of helping to get Gerena and the half-ton of cash out of the United States. The FBI believes Gerena and an unknown amount of the stolen money were taken first to Mexico, then Cuba.

Independence movement
The Macheteros, whose name is variously translated as the "Machete Wielders" or "Cane Cutters," are suspected of using the money to finance a series of bombings and attacks designed to promote independence for the U.S. territory.

Their alleged leader, Filiberto Ojeda Rios, was killed in a 2005 shootout with the FBI at a remote farmhouse in Puerto Rico.

Gerena and Gonzalez's brother, Norberto Gonzalez-Claudio, are the only two suspects who remain at large. Gerena remains on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list and a $1 million reward still stands.

Gonzalez faces more than 250 years in prison if convicted of all the charges.