Mar 27, 2020
U.S. Indictment of Venezuelan President Maduro Transcript: William Barr Speech
William P. Barr: (00:02)
Good morning, everybody. This is the first time we’ve tried a virtual press conference at the Department of Justice and I hope it goes okay but I appreciate all of you participating this morning. Today I’m here to talk about the former Maduro regime and its direct participation in narcoterrorism, corruption, money laundering, and drug trafficking. Joining me today are the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoff Berman, the U S Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Ariana Fajardo, the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Brian Benczkowski and DEA Administrator, Uttam Dhillon.
William P. Barr: (00:54)
As you will hear, the Department of Justice is announcing the unsealing of a superseding indictment filed in the Southern District of New York against four defendants including Nicolas Maduro, as well as the current head of Venezuela’s constituent assembly, the former director of military intelligence, and a former high ranking general for their involvement in narcoterrorism.
William P. Barr: (01:24)
In addition, a recent superseding indictment charges two high ranking regime leaders with corruption. Further, the Southern District of Florida unsealed charges this morning against the chief justice of the Venezuelan Supreme Court involving money laundering. Additionally this morning, the criminal division unsealed an indictment charging the minister of defense for his involvement in drug trafficking. These charges are in addition to charges the department has previously filed in the Eastern District of New York, the Southern District of Texas and the District of Arizona against former members of the Maduro regime totaling 15 defendants. Of these cases, 13 are DEA-led investigations and two are HSI-led investigations.
William P. Barr: (02:29)
The indictment of Nicolas Maduro and his co-defendants alleges a conspiracy involving an extremely violent terrorist organization known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC, and an effort to flood the United States with cocaine.
William P. Barr: (02:49)
Now, FARC has been operating in Colombia. In 2017 the Colombians entered into a peace agreement with FARC under which the overwhelming majority of FARC members laid down their arms and have been living within the political structure of Columbia. However, there is a dissident group of about 2,500 FARC members and they have taken up on the border between Venezuela and Columbia. These FARC dissidents continue to be involved in drug trafficking and armed insurgency. They have obtained the support of the Maduro regime who is allowing them to use Venezuela as a safe haven from which they can continue to conduct their cocaine trafficking and their armed insurgency. There’s an area right on the border in Columbia, Norte de Santander, which is one of the primary cocaine producing areas remaining in Columbia. The FARC gets this cocaine over into Venezuela and then is given safe haven by the regime to fly this cocaine from an area called Zulia near Lake Maracaibo up into Central America. Since 2016 this air bridge has been established and has grown five-fold and just those four years. In addition, the regime is allowing these drug traffickers to take drugs by a maritime route into the Caribbean. We estimate that somewhere between 200 and 250 metric tons of cocaine are shipped out of Venezuela by these routes.
William P. Barr: (04:56)
Those 250 metric tons equate to 30 million lethal doses. The United States attorneys from the Southern District of New York and the Southern District Of Florida as well as Assistant Attorney General for the department’s criminal division will now describe some of the indictments in more detail, but I want to give you a sense of just how deeply the institutions of the former Venezuelan government are infected by criminality and corruption.
William P. Barr: (05:29)
You will hear that the people profiting from this corruption are high ranking members of this former regime and you will see how this involves all branches of government, executive, judicial, and military. With that, I’ll turn it over to the United States Attorney for the Southern district of New York, Geoff Berman. Geoff.
Geoff Berman: (05:52)
Thank you, Mr. Attorney General. Today we announced criminal charges against Nicolas Maduro [inaudible 00:05:59] top lieutenants, a narcoterrorism partnership with the FARC for the past 20 years. The scope and magnitude of the drug trafficking alleged was made possible only because Maduro and others corrupted the institutions of Venezuela and provided political and military protection for the rampant narcoterrorism crimes described in the charges. As alleged, Maduro and the other defendants expressly intended to flood the United States with cocaine in order to undermine the health and wellbeing of our nation. Maduro very deliberately deployed cocaine as a weapon. This indictment is the culmination of over a decade of work by our office and the DEA Special Operations Division.
Geoff Berman: (06:49)
Since 2006 we have been prosecuting Central American drug traffickers and corrupt officials and developing evidence that provided the foundation for the charges unsealed today. While Maduro and the other cartel members held lofty titles in Venezuela’s political and military leadership, the conduct described in the indictment wasn’t statecraft or service for the Venezuelan people. As alleged, the defendants betrayed the Venezuelan people and corrupted Venezuelan institutions to line their pockets with drug money. The defendants called their cartel the Cartel of the Suns. The name they chose reflects the cartel’s identity and operations. It is a direct reference to the sun shaped stars that Venezuelan military officers wear on their uniforms. Indeed, three former military officers of the highest rank are charged in this indictment. At the direction of Maduro and in pursuit of their own personal profits, these officers negotiated drug sales, protected the FARC’s transportation of cocoa leaves from Columbia, provided safe haven in Venezuela for cocaine manufacturing facilities and supplied authorization codes and cover for the planes and the boats that transported the shipments as they began their journey to the United States.
Geoff Berman: (08:18)
The indictment also charges senior leaders of the FARC, the Colombian terrorist group that has long been one of the largest cocaine producers in the world. Around 1999, the cartel invited the FARC to expand its operations across the Columbian border into Venezuela as part of the cartel’s effort to flood the United States with cocaine. In exchange for their contributions, the FARC leaders received caches of military grade weapons including machine guns, ammunition, rocket launchers, and explosives, equipment to help fuel their long campaign of terrorism.
Geoff Berman: (08:59)
This is Maduro, the leader of the Cartel of the Suns. He is charged along with his co-defendants with conspiracy to commit narcoterrorism, conspiracy to import hundreds of tons of cocaine into the United States and related weapons offenses. These charges carry with them a mandatory minimum sentence of 50 years imprisonment and a maximum sentence of life. Maduro is currently in Venezuela, but he may travel outside of Venezuela and if anyone is aware of such travel, we also want them to be aware that the State Department has offered a reward of $15 million for the capture, for the conviction of Maduro.
Geoff Berman: (09:49)
Maduro’s three cartel co-conspirators, Cliver Alcala, Diosdado Cabello and Hugo Carvajal are at large and the State Department has offered a $10 million reward for their arrest and/or conviction. Cabello is the president of Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly as well as a current military officer and one of the Maduro’s top lieutenants in the cartel. Cabello has personally coordinated large cocaine shipments for the cartel and helped deliver rocket launchers to the FARC. Carvajal used to be the head of Venezuelan military intelligence. He is a key cartel operative who worked with Maduro and Cabello to facilitate cocaine shipments. Alcala is a former Venezuelan general who operated near the Colombian border as an intermediary between the FARC and the cartel. These members of the cartel led by Nicolas Maduro now stand indicted for using their political and military power to promote narcoterrorism for their personal gain and to the great detriment of the Venezuelan people.
Geoff Berman: (11:07)
This case took many years to build and I want to thank the DEA Special Operations Division. I also want to thank the DA’s Miami Field Division and office, Homeland Security Investigations and the State Department for its efforts in connection with the narcotics rewards program incentives announced today. I also want to commend the prosecutors handling the case for my office. Amanda [Hule 00:11:33], Matt Laroche, Jason Richmond and Kyle [Wirsbo 00:11:37] and their supervisors, [Amo Bovie 00:11:40] and Sean Crowley, the chiefs of the offices of terrorism and international narcotics unit, and now back to main Justice.
William P. Barr: (11:51)
Thank you, Geoff. And now I’d like to ask the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Ariana Fajardo to make comments.
Ariana Fajardo: (12:03)
Thank you, Mr. Attorney General. As the home to the largest population of Venezuelan nationals in the United States, the Southern District of Florida, my home, has a special connection to this historic announcement by Attorney General William Barr. As I drive from my home every day to my downtown office, I see literally the fraud and corruption of Maduro’s regime, whether it is million dollar condos or yachts, very fancy yachts and or jets that fly through the air, private jets. All of these belonging to, whether it’s Venezuelan generals or Venezuelan officials, all of this has become a part of our society in Southern Florida. Well, I have a message to all of these Venezuelan officials. This party is coming to an end.
Ariana Fajardo: (13:06)
In 2018, my office created a specialized unit and that unit was created specifically to target corrupt foreign officials who use the banking system in the United States to clean their dirty money. They bring that money from South America to the United States to further their corrupt schemes. Since the inception of this specialized unit in our office, we have charged more than a dozen current and former Venezuelan nationals, both government officials as well as civilians who have helped Maduro and his regime steal money from the people of Venezuela. We have seized over 450 millions of dollars from defendants in connections to these cases and we are just getting started.
Ariana Fajardo: (14:02)
Today, I am pleased to announce that the Southern District of Florida has charged the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Venezuela, Maikel Moreno, with international money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. As alleged in the criminal complaint against him, an extensive investigation by the Department of Homeland Security Investigations revealed corruption and infection of the justice system in Venezuela at the highest level. In Venezuela, civil cases and criminal cases are not decided in a principled way. They’re not decided based on evidence or what is right or what is wrong. In fact, decisions are based on whether or not you bribe the right person. An independent judiciary is supposed to be the last line of defense against the powerful…
Speaker 1: (15:03)
The last line of defense against the powerful and corrupt. The charges against Chief Justice Moreno demonstrate that the last line of defense in Venezuela has crumbled, creating a system without rule of law and without justice. In short, Venezuela has descended into a state of corruption resulting in a massive treasure grab for the rich and powerful. As alleged in the complaint Chief Justice demanded bribes on dozens and dozens of substantial matters before his court.
Speaker 1: (15:40)
For example, the Chief Justice allowed the seizure of General Motors, a company worth $100 million in Venezuela, all in exchange for a percentage of those proceeds and this left thousands of Venezuelans without jobs. Similarly, in criminal cases, the Chief Justice has allowed cases to be dismissed in exchange for bribes, or he has released individuals from custody based on bribes. He has also allowed people to steal millions of dollars for Venezuela state owned oil proceeds [inaudible 00:01:32]. So why does he do this? Why is he allowing all of this to go on? Why is he taking these bribes? He needs to support his lifestyle in the United States, in the Southern District of Florida. He travels here in private jets. He has his luxury residence here. He spends luxury money here. He has luxury cars. He likes to shop. He owns expensive watches. He shops in our luxury shops here at the Ball Harbor. And he always has high end watches on, has high end clothing, and this is how he supports his lifestyle. He is flooding our economy with this money and this has to stop.
Speaker 1: (17:11)
This is just one of the many cases we have charged over the last 18 months. We are focused on rooting out this extensive corruption within the [inaudible 00:17:25] here and within the Venezuelan government. We must do more to affect the highest levels of government in Venezuela. It is a regime that has caused millions of Venezuelans to flee their own country.
Speaker 1: (17:43)
I want to thank the prosecutors in my office that have made these cases possible. Michael Berger and Michael Nather, who are here and participating here within social distancing. I also want to thank their supervisor, who’s here, Peter Forand, who is also participating social distancing. I want to thank our many agency, HSI, DEA, and IRS, who have participated in the investigation of these many cases.
Speaker 1: (18:10)
Rest assured, this is only the beginning of our efforts against the Venezuelan corruption. Efforts that mark the beginning of what we are doing and the end of this criminal conduct. Thank you, Mr. Attorney General for allowing us to participate today and [inaudible 00:18:26].
William Barr: (18:28)
Thank you. And now I’m going to turn it over to the Head of our Criminal Division, Assistant Attorney General, Brian Benczkowski
Brian A. Benczkowski: (18:39)
Thank you, Attorney General Barr. Today we also are announcing charges against General Vladimir Padrino Lopez, the Venezuelan Minister of Defense for the Maduro regime. Padrino Lopez, who has been indicted here in the District of Columbia, is accused of conspiring to traffic, large amounts of cocaine onboard aircraft registered in and destined for the United States.
Brian A. Benczkowski: (19:04)
As the Attorney General and my colleagues from the Southern District of New York, and the Southern District of Florida have explained, the Maduro regime is propped up by a sham judiciary and a corrupt military. That military, led by Padrino Lopez was responsible for interdicting suspected drug traffickers flying through Venezuelan airspace. But as Minister of defense, Padrino Lopez instead wielded his power to allow drug traffickers to use Venezuela as a trans shipment route for narcotics destined for the United States.
Brian A. Benczkowski: (19:38)
Padrino Lopez allegedly accepted bribes from drug trafficking organizations to allow them free passage to fly through Venezuelan airspace. So long as he was paid off, cocaine filled aircraft could get by and avoid interdiction. Far from stopping drug traffickers, the military, for the right price, gave safe passage to drug traffickers, terrorists, and other criminals.
Brian A. Benczkowski: (20:03)
This was a brazen pay to play scheme and a corrupt abuse of power and it facilitated the rampant drug trafficking of narcotics through Venezuela to Central America, and eventually to the United States.
Brian A. Benczkowski: (20:18)
On other occasions, when drug traffickers failed to pay his requisite bribes, Padrino Lopez allegedly ordered or authorized interdiction, either forcing the pilots to land, or shooting the planes down.
Brian A. Benczkowski: (20:31)
Today’s announcement should make it clear that the Department of Justice is firmly committed to holding current and former officials of the Maduro regime to account. Those like Padrino Lopez, who use their positions of power to promulgate state sponsored drug trafficking and narco terrorism, will be prosecuted for their crimes.
Brian A. Benczkowski: (20:52)
I too want to thank the prosecutors in the Criminal Division from the Criminal Divisions Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, as well as the dedicated agents from the DEA, who investigated, and will continue to investigate, this important case. Thank you.
William Barr: (21:12)
Thank you. And I too want to thank all the agents and all the prosecutors who have worked on these cases over the years. As US Attorney Berman mentioned, this work goes back in the Southern District of New York for over a decade, so it’s greatly appreciated and all the work done by the DEA and our HSI at our sister agency, the Department of Homeland Security.
William Barr: (21:42)
As alleged, the Maduro regime is awash in corruption and criminality. Maduro and his other defendants have betrayed the Venezuelan people and corrupted Venezuela’s institutions. While the Venezuelan people suffer, this cabal lines their pockets with drug money and the proceeds of their corruption. And this has to come to an end.
William Barr: (22:13)
I’d now like to open it up for questions. We’d like to start off if we could with on topic questions. I understand there’s some people that will have some off topic questions and we will get to those. And I also want to assure you that if for some reason you don’t get to ask your question during this session, please contact Kerri Kupec and we’ll make sure we get you the information you need.
William Barr: (22:44)
I’ve asked the Head of DEA to join us during this question and answer period, if there are any questions addressed to him. So with that I’d like to turn it over to the operator.
We will now begin the question and answer session. For all of our phone participants, to ask a question, you may press star then one on your touch tone phone. If you are using a speaker phone, please pick up your handset before pressing the keys. To withdraw your question, you can press star then two. At this time to pause momentarily to assemble our roster. Our first question will come from Jake Gibson with Fox News.
William Barr: (23:48)
Go ahead, Jake.
Jake Gibson: (23:50)
Hey, thank you for doing the call. So quickly, what are the… I understand Mr. Maduro is still in Venezuela. How do you feel about chances of him ever seeing a US courtroom, number one. Number two, I understand the members that you’re talking about around the border is, do you have any suspicions that the Colombian government is at all complicit with this arrangement? Thank you.
William Barr: (24:18)
Thank you. We do expect eventually to gain custody of these defendants and we’re going to explore all options for getting custody. US Attorney Berman mentioned that some of them do travel and that may provide an opportunity. We do have the reward money out and hopefully the Venezuelan people will see what’s going on and will eventually regain control of their country.
William Barr: (24:45)
As to the Colombians, on the contrary, the Colombians have very effective military and are attempting to gain control of this contested area along the border. But the fact that the FARC dissidents are being given safe haven in Venezuela is greatly complicating that job. But the Colombians are a very good partner of the United States and we have confidence in them. Next question.
Our next question comes from Sadie Gurman with Wall Street Journal.
Sadie Gurman: (25:29)
Hi, there. Good to see you.
William Barr: (25:31)
Sadie Gurman: (25:33)
This is basically an unprecedented action and it’s coming at a time of a global pandemic when all countries are weakened. And so I guess I’m hoping you can tell us a little bit more about why you’re doing this now and explain the timing.
William Barr: (25:45)
Well, this has been in the works for a long time and actually we could have gone a little bit earlier before the full brunt of the pandemic struck us. But actually this is good timing, because the people in Venezuela are suffering and they need an effective government that really cares about the people. And instead this regime, while it itself feeds at the trough, as we allege, is blocking supplies and help to the Venezuelan people from coming in. So we think that the best way to support the Venezuelan people during this period is to do all we can to rid the country of this corrupt cabal. Next question
Our next question comes from Mike Balsamo with the Associated Press.
Mike Balsamo: (26:49)
Thanks for doing this again. Obviously, Attorney General, [inaudible 00:26:53] the President of another nation is a pretty serious action for the department to take. Can you talk about that decision to take such an aggressive action, and to follow up on Jake’s other question there, is there any consideration of sending the US Military to Venezuela to apprehend any of these people?
William Barr: (27:15)
If I understand the first part of your question, Mike, it’s about the decision process to get where we are today?
Mike Balsamo: (27:22)
William Barr: (27:22)
Yeah. Well, since I’ve arrived, I was aware of the work being done in the department, around the department, and some of the work that had been done, and it’s been coordinated and we’ve been working toward this day and the Southern District of New York really achieved the signal achievement of being able to indict Maduro, who’s the Head of this regime, and that obviously when we got to that point we felt it was time to lay out the entire case.
William Barr: (28:02)
As to a future steps, I’m really not in a position to comment or speculate about that. Next question.
Our next question comes from David Shortell with CNN.
David Shortell: (28:22)
Hi, there. Thank you guys for doing this.
William Barr: (28:24)
David Shortell: (28:25)
I’m wondering what communication the US government had with Juan Guaidó, who is recognized by the government as the rightful leader of the country and what confidence the US government, the Justice Department, you prosecutors, have in that regime, that government’s ability to restore the institutions that you’re saying have been broken by Maduro?
William Barr: (28:49)
The department, as far as I’m aware, has not been in contact with President Guaidó about these cases. We moved on these cases when we were ready to do it and obviously coordinated them within the department and alerted the State Department to it. And I’m really not in a position to comment about matters of state. That’s really better addressed to the State Department. Next question.
Our next question comes from Matt Zapotosky, with Washington Post.
Matt Zapotosky: (29:32)
Hi, thanks for doing this.
Matt Zapotosky: (29:34)
I wonder, did you brief President Trump on this before you green-lit it, and what was his reaction to that?
William Barr: (29:46)
I don’t talk about internal deliberations, but obviously the National Security Community was alerted ahead of time that we were taking this step and obviously there were no objections to it. Next question.
William Barr: (30:02)
Speaker 2: (30:06)
Our next question comes from Katie Benner with the New York Times.
Katie Benner: (30:12)
Hey, thank you so much for being here. Just wanted to [inaudible 00:30:15] question. You did mention that this has been in the works for a long time, that the indictment could have gone out before today, so I was wondering what… If you could talk about the decision-making around the delay. And then [crosstalk 00:30:26]
William Barr: (30:26)
I’m sorry. The decision-making around what [inaudible 00:30:29]?
Katie Benner: (30:30)
Around why you chose… You had said that this has been in the works for a long time, and the indictments could have gone out before this time, before the pandemic struck. So I’m just wondering if you could talk about the timing a little bit more, why that they didn’t go out before the pandemic struck? And then, my question, any international community reactions so far, and can we verify that this is the first time the department has indicted a sitting president of another country. I just want to make sure we get that right.
William Barr: (30:58)
Well, first, let me just say that we do not recognize Maduro as the president of Venezuela. Obviously, we indicted Noriega under similar circumstances. We did not recognize Noriega as the president of Panama.
William Barr: (31:13)
As to the delay, it was really just ministerial. Obviously, we were coordinating a lot of cases around the country. And originally, I think it was just about a week ago or so, we were planning to have a press conference. Maybe it was a little bit more than a week. And just when it became evident that there was going to be a cessation of travel and the social distancing protocols went into effect, it really prevented us from convening the press conference. And so, we decided to play it by ear for a few days until we see how things developed and we decided that we should go ahead with a virtual press conference rather than indefinitely delay this.
Katie Benner: (32:03)
And then, just a quick follow-up. Is there any value in filing a formal extradition request to Venezuela at all? And if so, will you do that?
William Barr: (32:13)
Well, we generally don’t discuss extradition matters until a defendant is actually in the United States, so I’m not going to really speculate at that, the extent to which we would try to avail ourselves of extradition here.
Katie Benner: (32:30)
William Barr: (32:31)
Speaker 3: (32:31)
William Barr: (32:31)
Speaker 2: (32:35)
Our next question comes from Alex Mallin with ABC News.
Alex Mallin: (32:41)
Hi, Mr. Attorney General. Thanks for doing this. So Maduro has reacted to these charges already. He said that the US and Colombia are conspiring and they’ve given the order to fill Venezuela with violence and he’s obliged to defend the peace and stability of the entire homeland. Can you just talk a little bit more about the diplomatic considerations in filing charges like these against a head of state, and whether there are any risks of this actually bolstering Maduro’s hold on power there for a longer period of time? And then just separately, was there… This may be a State question, but are you aware if there’s any consideration of formally designation Venezuela as a state-sponsored terrorism because of the allegations in these indictments?
William Barr: (33:22)
Well, as to designation, it’s really one step at a time, so I really have nothing to say about that right now. At the end of the day, the department’s perspective is to bring cases when they are legally justified and supported by the law. Obviously, foreign policy considerations can come into play if it was going to seriously injure our foreign policy, but that’s not the case here. Here, I think both as a matter of our legal system and as a matter of our national security and diplomacy, it’s time to call out this regime for what it is and to highlight to the world, the American people who have been the victims of this drug trafficking that was deliberately put in place to hurt American people, and also the Venezuelan people who are suffering, while these people enrich themselves. So we felt that getting the facts out was important, both from the justice standpoint and it corresponded obviously to our foreign policy.
William Barr: (34:27)
Let me just pause for a moment and ask my colleagues if anything that has been discussed up to now, they’d like to add something too, at this point. If not, we can take the next question. Geoff or Ariana, did you want to add anything at this point, or Brian?
Geoff Berman: (34:47)
No, nothing to add.
William Barr: (34:47)
Okay. Okay. So now, we’ll take the next question.
Speaker 2: (34:53)
The next question comes from Jeff [inaudible 00:34:56] with CBS News.
Thank you for taking the question. Appreciate your time. Specifically, what kind of direct evidence is there of Maduro’s direct involvement?
William Barr: (35:10)
Okay. I’ll let Geoff Berman, the US Attorney in the Southern District of New York speak to that.
Geoff Berman: (35:18)
Thank you, Mr. Attorney General. Our indictment specifies several allegations against Maduro individually, beginning back in 2006. Maduro, when he was foreign minister, agreed to help the FARC launder money, and the FARC paid Maduro $5 million. These are all allegations in the indictment.
Geoff Berman: (35:43)
2008, Maduro, Cabello, and Carvajal met with a FARC representative to discuss providing more weapons and cash in exchange for increased cocaine production from the FARC. During the meeting, Maduro also agreed to abuse his authority as foreign minister to keep the Colombia-Venezuela border open to facilitate in drug trafficking.
Geoff Berman: (36:07)
The indictment goes on. In 2009, Maduro, Cabello, with Carvajal met with a FARC representative to negotiate a four-ton cocaine shipment. And also in 2009, Maduro travels to Honduras in an effort to prevent the Honduran coup from disrupting cartel drug trafficking operations.
Geoff Berman: (36:27)
In 2013, Maduro cancels a trip to the UN General Assembly and convenes a meeting in Venezuela with Cabello and Carvajal to discuss seizure by the French law enforcement of over 1.3 tons of the cartel’s cocaine. But also in 2013, Maduro and others authorized arrests of low-ranking Venezuela military officials to divert scrutiny relating to the French seizure from the cartel leadership. In 2014, Maduro and Marquez agreed to have FARC train a militia or the cartel. This is a private militia for Maduro, not part of the official military. Also that year, Maduro, Cabello and other members of the cartel pressure Aruba and Dutch government to release Carvajal after he was provisionally arrested in Aruba.
Geoff Berman: (37:27)
And the last allegation with regard to Maduro was in 2019, Maduro publicly welcomed the FARC into Venezuela, specifically referred to Marquez and Santrich of the FARC and welcoming them at a press conference and the press conference was also attended by Cabello. Back to you, Mr. Attorney General.
William Barr: (37:50)
Thank you, Geoff. And let me say to people that our website, we have links to all the indictments that are referred to at the outset. So if people are interested in seeing those indictments, that’s where they can be found. The next question?
Speaker 2: (38:05)
Our next question comes from Josh Gerstein with Politico.
Josh Gerstein: (38:14)
Hi, Attorney General. Thanks for doing this. I hope everybody is healthy and well there. I’m wondering if you can discuss what you see as the nexus between the charges and the United States. Whenever these kinds of cases are brought, there will be some people who say the US shouldn’t be the world’s policemen and there are obviously many people with expensive watches that they may have gotten through illegitimate means walking around Miami at any given time. So does this all link to the drug trafficking that makes it a [inaudible 00:38:44] than simply what’s related to drugs. Thanks.
William Barr: (38:50)
Well, each indictment speaks for itself and some indictments are narcotrafficking, some relate to drug trafficking, some to money laundering, some to other forms of corruption. But obviously, this is a regime, the narcotrafficking charges alleged that this is a regime that has deliberately targeted the United States and is working in concert with FARC for the purpose of trafficking in cocaine up to the United States. And so, we’re not acting as the world’s policemen. We’re acting as policemen for ourselves and people who are obligated to protect the American people. But even crimes involving corruption and money laundering, they are using the facilities of the United States to conduct criminal activity and it’s our responsibility to ensure that that doesn’t happen. I don’t know if any of my colleagues would like to add something on that.
William Barr: (39:56)
William Barr: (40:03)
Speaker 2: (40:03)
This question comes from Jay Weaver with the Miami Herald.
Jay Weaver: (40:08)
Yes, hi. Thank you for taking my question from Miami. I was wondering about the Maduro indictment and the extent to which law enforcement, either agents, prosecutors have been able to freeze or seize any of the cocaine or drug proceeds? I was wondering if you could give an estimate. I know these are always fluid numbers, but if you could give an estimate because this has been going on for so long. Can you indicate how much cocaine has been seized and how much potential bank account money or other assets have been seized or frozen?
William Barr: (40:51)
Geoff, do you want to start us off on that?
Geoff Berman: (40:54)
Well, apart from any seizures mentioned in the indictment, we can’t really go beyond the four corners and our investigation is continuing, Mr. Attorney General.
William Barr: (41:06)
Anything to add?
Geoff Berman: (41:08)
Back to you.
Ariana Fajardo Orshan: (41:09)
I do. Can you hear me, Mr. Attorney General?
William Barr: (41:11)
Yes, I can. Can you hear me?
Ariana Fajardo Orshan: (41:12)
William Barr: (41:13)
Ariana Fajardo Orshan: (41:14)
Okay sir, just trying to add on the last question [inaudible 00:41:17].
William Barr: (41:17)
Ariana Fajardo Orshan: (41:21)
We have seized in Miami so far in excess of $450 million in funds from the different bank accounts located here in the United States. In addition to that, I do have a comment for the previous question. This directly impacts the Southern District of Florida. For example, our housing market has increased substantially. The normal person who works in Miami in Downtown Miami cannot live within the area of surrounding Downtown Miami. They have to drive in, about 45 minutes, because they cannot live in the surrounding areas. They have to move way out into the suburbs to be able to afford housing because all of the local housing around this area has become luxury housing.
Ariana Fajardo Orshan: (42:12)
So they have all of this foreign money coming in, it really impacts our housing in Miami, our housing market here. So it is, this laundering of money in South Florida is a direct impact and it’s really a need that we have to pursue this. So I wanted just to add that from the last question, but we have seized a lot of money. And in our cases, because of the money seizures, the defendants come forward. That’s one of the beauties of the money laundering statute. Once you start seizing the money, the defendants start appearing and wanting to negotiate.
William Barr: (42:50)
And I think the indictments have asset forfeiture provisions in them and obviously we’re going to be seeking those assets, but let me ask the DEA administrator. In terms of drug seizures, do you have anything to add on that?
Uttam Dhillon: (43:07)
No, sir. Just what is in the indictment that the Southern District of New York is [crosstalk 00:43:10]
William Barr: (43:10)
Right. Yeah. So as the indictment indicates, there has been some drug seizures and my understanding also is that we have observed in Central America, the landing of planes and the abandonment of planes that have carried drugs up from Venezuela. One of the reasons this growing air bridge is a concern is because the traditional means of bringing cocaine up is by sea, both on the Pacific coast of Mexico and the Atlantic coast. And as we increase our interdiction there, the President is adding to our resources to interdict in both oceans. We are concerned that this is being developed as a way of avoiding our maritime interdiction, and which makes going after this particular route important for us right now. I’ll take another question.
Speaker 2: (44:14)
Our next question comes from Sarah Lynch with Reuters.
Sarah Lynch: (44:19)
Hi, thanks for doing this call. I had one question that was on the topic of this and then one that’s coronavirus. On this case, I was wondering if there any evidence that any banks may have turned a blind eye to some of this. You’re talking a lot about money laundering in southern Florida and I’m wondering if there’s going to be possibly charges against any banks who are enabling some of this? And then, secondly, I wanted to ask a little bit more about your efforts on the price gouging and hoarding. I’ve been hearing there’s some confusion out in the field among law enforcement about how to implement this. For example, there is no guidance on what would differentiate price gouging from just regular price increases due to legitimate supply and demand.
Speaker 4: (45:03)
… from just regular price increases due to legitimate supply and demand fundamentals. And also if you could talk about what materials will be targeted here and will it include drugs such as a Chloroquine? Thanks.
William Barr: (45:16)
Okay, well, I’m not going to speculate about other potential involvement or discuss what other aspects of this investigation may be pursued or may turn up. But as to the hoarding and gouging provisions, there shouldn’t be any confusion in the field because these are federal provisions that relate to the hoarding and the price gouging. And they are activated when HHS promulgates and publishes in the federal register, the list of materials that are covered by the hoarding and price gouging provisions, which they did this morning.
William Barr: (45:58)
You’ll find it in the federal register. There are some drugs listed there, a lot of PPE and other essential medical and health materials are listed. So as that is published, it is now a crime to hoard that in excess of your personal or business needs or for the purpose of selling it at above market prices. And so we do have a task force now at the Department of Justice that’s coordinating things nationally and responding to leads or information indicating potential hoarding or price gouging. And they are the ones who are responsible for enforcing this and are in contact with all the US attorney’s offices around the country. I’ll take another question.
Speaker 5: (46:53)
The reminder to ask a question, you can press star then one and our next question will come from Mike Balsamo with the Associated Press.
Mike Balsamo: (47:04)
Thank you. Mr. Attorney General, we’re seeing a growing number of Coronavirus patients in the Bureau of Prisons, officers across the country are complaining about PPE being unavailable to them. Inmates and their family members are worried the virus could spread quickly in prisons. How do you assure these officers and their families that they’re safe in BOP’s care. And are you considering releasing federal prisoners because of the virus?
William Barr: (47:29)
Yes, thanks Mike. We have received a lot of inquiries about the Bureau of Prisons and the safety of inmates and correctional officers. And thanks for the opportunity to address this. We have 146,000 inmates in 122 federal Bureau of Prison facilities. And in addition to that, we have 21,000 inmates in private facilities that we have contracted with. And we have a total of 36,000 staff in the Bureau of Prisons and obviously the health and safety of our inmates and our staff is a top priority for us.
William Barr: (48:14)
We take seriously our responsibility to protect those who are put in our custody. Bureau of Prisons has a lot of experience in dealing with managing infectious diseases in the correctional setting. And it started its planning right away at the beginning of the year and it has a very substantial in-house medical staff, 2,400 doctors and professional medical staff had started its planning with them and in direct contact with the CDC to put in place a plan, a phased plan for how to protect both the inmates and the staff.
William Barr: (48:57)
Now, it’s true that as an institution and a custodial situation, there are special challenges during a pandemic. But on the other hand, we also should remember that the Bureau of Prisons has special tools inside a facility that are not available outside to the general public or to governments really to make it easier to enforce control measures including the ability to actually physically lock down establishments, to quarantine people, to screen, to monitor contacts and to provide in-house medical care.
William Barr: (49:36)
The Bureau has a very rigorous set of protocols that it has put into place and it’s constantly expanding them as it learns more. For example, it’s screening all newly admitted inmates for COVID-19, including a temperature check. It has a mandatory quarantine of 14 days for all new arrivals who haven’t already been in our system, it’s a 14 day quarantine for each individual. It’s screening staff and contractors prior to their entry into a BOP institution.
William Barr: (50:17)
Inmates who are showing symptoms are isolated and testing is done under CDC standards and when inmates are infected, the facility is locked down. These are just a few of the things that are in place, but there is a very robust regime in place and we’re doing our best to make sure that it’s followed in all the institutions we’re responsible for.
William Barr: (50:41)
At the beginning of this, BOP conducted an inventory of all the health and medical supplies and relevant supplies in the system and has started centrally managing those to make sure that they are where they need to be and obviously in the first few days of this crisis, took some adjustment to try to get the supplies where they are. Now in terms of some areas like PPE, while they feel they have enough to satisfy CDC standards for a short period of time, so 30 or 45 days, there’s definitely a need to increase our stockpiles of PPE because we’d like more robust usage of it throughout the system.
William Barr: (51:29)
Despite these measures, there have been a number of inmates and staff who have tested positive. There is one in Brooklyn who was hospitalized briefly and has been released, this is the Brooklyn MDC and the facility is now in lockdown. There’ve been two at Oakdale, Louisiana, one presented with a fever on March 16th, tested positive on March 21st and is now stable with relatively mild symptoms and is in isolation at the facility. The second presented with a fever and was hospitalized and he had significant preexisting conditions and is in critical condition, but as I say that facility, Oakdale, Louisiana is in lockdown. There have been two inmates who have contracted it in Atlanta.
William Barr: (52:37)
One is in isolation and his symptoms seem to be abating and the other one is also in isolation and the facility is locked down. In addition to this, there was one at the MCC in New York City and he’s in isolation with cold symptoms and the institution has been locked down. There’s some additional ones coming in, I don’t have the details in, but as of last night there were four staff members who had been tested and tested positive.
William Barr: (53:19)
Two of them had had no inmate contact. One worked in an administrative office and had no contact as part of their job with inmates. The other one came back from foreign travel and self-quarantined themselves and did not have any contact. Two work at the same facility and they have tested positive, those facilities are in lockdown and BOP is investigating contacts to see if there could have been any infection. Last week I asked the BOP to start doing some assessment work to see if it was possible to expand home confinement, particularly for those older prisoners who had served substantial parts of their sentence and did no longer posed a threat and may have underlying conditions that make them particularly vulnerable and they’ve been doing that work. We have 10,000 inmates over 60, generally speaking, about a third of our inmates have preexisting conditions. 40% of that 10,000 are serving sentences for violent crime or sex offenses.
William Barr: (54:54)
We have authorities under the First Step Act and under other general authorities to release. It would permit us to release to home confinement in certain designated circumstances. And I’ve asked and issued a memorandum just today to Bureau of Prisons to increase the use of home confinement based on a number of factors including some of the statutory factors that we have to consider and are appropriate to consider and other eligibility standards.
William Barr: (55:31)
One of the things we have to assess is whether that individual is a case by case will be more safe in the particular circumstance in which they’re going to find themselves. And in many cases that may not be the case. We also have to provide that anyone who is released to home confinement is quarantined before they go out for 14 days to ensure that we’re not putting people out in the community who have it. But we are now in the process of trying to expand home confinement as part of trying to control the spread of this infection. I would say generally the history… my sense is that generally the history of BOP has been pretty good in these situations. I went back and looked at the flu during the 2018 and ’19 flu season and the incidents in the prison system are I think it was 3.4% of the prisoners had sought medical attention for flu-like symptoms were on the outside it was 3.9%.
William Barr: (56:37)
So yes, there are particular concerns in this institutional setting. We want to make sure that our institutions don’t become Petri dishes and it spreads rapidly through a particular institution. But we have the protocols that are designed to stop that and we are using all the tools we have to protect the inmates. And one of those tools will be identifying vulnerable prisoners who would make more sense to allow to go home to finish their confinement. Thanks Mike for your question and give me the opportunity to address that because I know a lot of people have been interested in that. I’ll take a couple more questions.
Speaker 5: (57:23)
Our next question comes from Gabriela Perozo with VPITV.
Gabriela Perozo: (57:30)
Hi, thank you so much for the opportunity. Is it possible that someone who lives in Venezuela [inaudible 00:57:38] the defendant and deliver them to another country. It is possible for a foreign police force to coordinate with the interim president leader to capture them and about their rewards to be dead or alive? Thank you so much.
William Barr: (57:58)
Was that a question or were you asking whether we wanted him captured dead or alive? Was that the question? Well, we want him captured so he can face justice in US courts. We want these defendants captured so they can face justice in US courts and we hope to gain custody of them. And as I say, there are a lot of options that we can pursue to achieve that. But my hope is that the Venezuelan people will soon be in a position where they can render these people to us. One more question.
Speaker 5: (58:45)
Our next question will come from Pete Williams with NBC News.
Pete Williams: (58:49)
Thank you. Mr. Attorney General, can you tell us what led the US to inform members of Bob Levinson’s family that the United States believes that Levinson died in Iranian custody?
William Barr: (59:01)
Pete, I personally monitored that situation and the information about him obviously is an FBI agent and that’s of great concern over here as to what his fate was, but as to what actually led to the discussion with the family, I really wasn’t part of that and I couldn’t answer that.
Pete Williams: (59:21)
Well, is it your view though that he is in fact that he did die in Iranian custody?
William Barr: (59:27)
I’m not really sure what has been conveyed to the family. So I don’t want to say anything right now publicly about that.
Pete Williams: (59:33)
William Barr: (59:34)
I was not part of that decision. Okay. Thank you very much. I appreciate you all participating. And as I said, if you have some followup, we’ll try to get you the answers as fast as we can. Thank you.