Miami investment manager pleads not guilty in Venezuelan money laundering case

Prosecutors say Gustavo Hernandez Frieri helped launder bribes linked to the embezzlement of Venezuelan national oil company PDVSA

PDVSA Flag (Credit: iStock)
PDVSA Flag (Credit: iStock)

A Miami investment manager pleaded not guilty of charges that he supported a $1.2 billion money-laundering ring with links to the socialist government of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro.

Gustavo Hernandez Frieri, 45, appeared Friday in a federal courtroom in Miami for his bond hearing and arraignment. Colombian-born Hernandez was extradited to Miami this month after his arrest last July during a family vacation in Italy.

He is charged with helping to launder at least $12 million in bribes paid to a former executive of PDVSA, the national oil company in Venezuela.

The former PDVSA executive, Abraham Edgardo Ortega, pleaded guilty in October on charges that he accepted $12 million of bribe money. Prosecutors say Hernandez charged a fee to put the bribe money in a phony mutual fund to make it look legitimate, then laundered the money by depositing it in U.S. banks.

Ortega accepted the bribes in exchange for allowing a ring of criminals to embezzle hundreds of millions of dollars from PDVSA and put the money into luxury real estate in South Florida and in U.S., Caribbean and European bank accounts.

Ortega, a former executive director of financial planning who had worked for PDVSA for more than 10 years, allowed the embezzlement via lending and currency-exchange schemes. Most members of the ring that embezzled PDVSA remain at large.

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President Maduro is a suspect in the ongoing federal investigation of the ring. His three stepsons also are under investigation.

Caracas TV mogul Raúl Gorrin faces charges in a separate federal case of conspiring with the Alejandro Andrade, a former national treasurer of Venezuela, to embezzle more than $1 billion from the government. Andrade got a 10-year prison sentence in November after pleading guilty to a charge of money-laundering conspiracy. As part of his guilty plea, he agreed to forfeit his assets, which included 17 champion show horses and five real estate properties in Palm Beach County.

Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Becerra granted Hernandez a pretrial bail arrangement that requires the defendant to post a $1.5 million bond and to make a down payment of 10 percent. The judge also required a $25 million surety bond to be co-signed by the defendant’s brother, Cesar Hernandez Frieri, and his brother-in-law Juan Carlos Gomez.

In addition, Hernandez must surrender his passport and his three children’s passports.

His wife, Olympia, refused to help him post bond. His defense attorney, Michael Pasano, told the judge, “It’s likely that they’re going to get divorced.” [Miami Herald]Mike Seemuth