WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - A former top Venezuelan official was sentenced Tuesday by a U.S. judge to a decade in federal prison for taking part in a $1 billion bribery scheme.
Alejandro Andrade, a former national treasurer, accepted a plea deal and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg in Florida. He's free having posted a $1 million bond and is expected to surrender in February and go to a federal penitentiary.
“I assume full responsibility for my conduct,” said Andrade, calmly reading from a prepared statement.
Andrade, 54, said he felt “enormous pain and remorse” and apologized to all those affected “in any possible way.”
Crisis in Venezuela worsens
The sentencing comes as Venezuela spirals into a deepening crisis that's left millions hungry and led to a staggering inflation rate.
U.S. authorities are pushing a public corruption probe targeting the so-called Venezuelan “boliburgues,” or elites, who amassed huge fortunes during late President Hugo Chavez's Bolivarian revolution and lived in luxury even as the situation in the country devolves.
Rigid currency controls in place in Venezuela for over a decade have been a major driver of graft, allowing a privileged few to purchase hard currency from the government at the official exchange rate and resell on the black market for huge profits.
In his meteoric career, Andrade served as a bodyguard to Chavez and eventually became national treasurer between 2007 and 2011. After leaving office, he moved to the exclusive South Florida enclave of Wellington, which is known for its lavish horse ranches.
$1 billion in bribes
Andrade told authorities that he took more than $1 billion in bribes from conspirators including Raul Gorrin, the owner of Venezuelan TV network Globovision, who remains on the run after being indicted by U.S. authorities.
In his plea deal, Andrade promised to cooperate fully in the ongoing probe and denied maintaining any ties with the Venezuelan government, which is seeking his extradition.
“We expect that the United State of America will hand him over to Venezuela,” said Venezuela's chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab in a recent appearance on state TV.
Andrade turned in all his property to U.S. authorities, including houses, cars and horses.
Although he was able to post the $1 million bail, his lawyers claim that he has been left with nothing.