Saturday, December 10, 2005

Judge Denies Bail for Two Cuban Exiles in Illegal Weapons Case

By Curt Anderson

The Associated Press

Posted December 9 2005, 5:09 PM EST

FORT LAUDERDALE -- A federal judge rejected a second attempt by two Cuban exiles to win release on bail before their trial on illegal weapons and other charges, ruling Friday that they were too dangerous to be free because of the deadly military nature of the weapons.

The machine guns, grenades, grenade launcher, detonation devices and thousands of rounds of ammunition seized in the case amounted to ``everything you need to carry out a bloodbath,'' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Hummel.

``These guns are offensive weapons under the law,'' Hummel said.

U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn sided with prosecutors, upholding another judge's ruling denying bail for Santiago Alvarez, 64, and 63-year-old Osvaldo Mitat.

They are charged in a seven-count grand jury indictment with illegal possession of machine guns and other weapons -- some with serial numbers erased -- that were allegedly stored at an apartment complex near Fort Lauderdale owned by Alvarez.

``These weapons have no utilitarian purpose other than to harm others,'' Cohn said. Alvarez is a wealthy businessman who came to the United States in 1959 and is a benefactor to Luis Posada Carriles, accused by Cuba and Venezuela of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner and of staging bombings in Havana in 1997 and 1998.

Posada, a former CIA operative, was arrested in Miami in May and is being held in El Paso, Texas, awaiting an immigration judge's ruling on whether he will be deported. Although Alvarez and Mitat, an employee of Alvarez's, are committed foes of Cuban President Fidel Castro, it's unclear what they intended to do with the weapons. They were arrested in November after Alvarez allegedly told a third man -- who turned out to be a U.S. government informant -- to drive the weapons from
Lauderhill to Mitat in Miami so that authorities would not discover them.

Prosecutors also say that Mitat told a Miami police detective after his arrest that he would exact revenge on the informant if they ever returned to Cuba, presumably after some future anti-Castro rebellion. Defense lawyers say they will contest the truthfulness of that informant.

Attorneys for Alvarez and Mitat repeatedly said that the weapons were never intended for use in the United States. They portrayed both men as U.S. patriots and prominent symbols of the decades-long struggle by Cuban exiles to topple Castro.

``These aren't criminals. These are two honorable men,'' said Kendall Coffey, one of Alvarez's lawyer and a former U.S. attorney in Miami. ``These men will be acquitted at trial.''

The lawyers also said that more than 5,000 people in Miami's Cuban-American community attended a prayer service for the two men Thursday night. About 30 family and friends attended Friday's hearing to show support.

Both men will plead not guilty at a formal arraignment Tuesday in Miami, their attorneys said. If convicted on all counts, prosecutors say they could each face more than 27 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.

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