Venezuelan banking official and 2 Miami broker dealers charged in $5 million NY bribery case

NEW YORK, N.Y. – A senior Venezuelan banking official is being held in Miami on charges that she accepted at least $5 million in bribes to funnel business to two Miami broker-dealers, federal authorities in Manhattan announced Tuesday.

Maria de Los Angeles Gonzalez de Hernandez, 54, of Caracas, Venezuela, who worked at Venezuela’s state economic development bank, was arrested Friday in Miami, prosecutors said after charges against her were unsealed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

The two broker-dealers also were arrested Friday in Miami, where they live. All three made initial appearances Monday in Miami and remain in custody.

Jane W. Moscowitz, a lawyer for Gonzalez, declined to comment.

A bail hearing was scheduled for Monday in Miami.

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos, said the defendants conspired form April 2009 to June 2010 to use Venezuela’s economic development bank “as their personal piggy bank.”

He said the two Florida brokers — Tomas Alberto Clarke Bethancourt, 43, and Jose Alejandro Hurtado, 38, — made large commissions from trading the bank’s assets while kicking back millions of dollars to Gonzalez. Their lawyers did not immediately return phone messages for comment.

The Securities and Exchange Commission brought a civil action the case in federal court in Manhattan, saying the scheme was carried out as broker-dealer Direct Access Partners executed fixed income trades for customers in foreign sovereign debt. It said DAP Global generated more than $66 million in revenue for DAP from transaction fees on riskless principal trade executions in Venezuelan sovereign or state-sponsored bonds for Banco de Desarrollo Economico y Social de Venezuela.

The SEC said a portion of the revenue was illicitly paid to Gonzalez, who authorized the fraudulent trades. The SEC said Bethancourt is an executive vice-president at DAP while Hurtado, working as an intermediary between DAP and Gonzalez, was paid more than $6 million in kickbacks disguised as salary payments from DAP. It said Hurtado paid some of the money he received to Gonzalez.

“These traders triggered a fraud that was staggering in audacity and scope,” said Andrew M. Calamari, director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office. “They thought they covered their tracks by using offshore accounts and a shadow accounting system to monitor their illicit profits and bribes, but they underestimated the SEC’s tenacity in piecing the scheme together.”