Venezuelan Embassy Activists Avoid Jail With Plea Bargain
WASHINGTON – A plea bargain with federal prosecutors is allowing four activists to avoid jail time after they occupied the Venezuelan Embassy in April and May.
The four were part of a group that stayed in the embassy in Washington, D.C. for a month to demonstrate their support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The socialist president was facing widespread turbulence and opposition as Venezuela’s economy collapsed, plunging the country into rioting and military crackdowns.
The four arrested demonstrators, Margaret Flowers, Adrienne Pine, David Paul and Kevin Zeese, were forcibly removed from the embassy in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood by police on May 16, 2019. About 50 demonstrators were staying at the embassy at various times during the month-long standoff.
Police moved in at the request of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who the U.S. government recognized as Venezuela’s rightful leader after a contested election.
The four arrested protesters were charged with misdemeanor interference with State Department diplomatic protective functions.
Their attorney argued at trial that they had permission from the embassy staff to be in the building.
They faced up to a year in jail but the trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ended with a hung jury.
Rather than seek a new trial, Justice Department prosecutors offered them a plea bargain.
Last week, they pleaded guilty to crowding, obstructing or incommoding. They received suspended sentences of 30 days in jail.
U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey released them on their own recognizance on a condition that they stay away from the Venezuelan embassy and nine other diplomatic properties. They also were ordered to stay away from embassy officials and to seek court approval to travel internationally.
A federal prosecutor asked that they be forced to give up their passports. However, their defense attorneys argued successfully they should be allowed to keep them because they are not a flight risk.
The four defendants are a medical doctor, a lawyer, an anthropology professor and the holder of a master’s degree.
“These are not people who are afraid of the court system,” said court-appointed federal public defender David Bos.
The occupation of the embassy started when Maduro invited the liberal activist group Code Pink to “protect” the building. Code Pink members describe themselves as peace activists.
Their legal and political supporters include the New York-based advocacy group Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, which wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo May 12 accusing the Secret Service of violating its own mandate to protect foreign embassies.
Instead of protecting the Venezuelan Embassy, the Secret Service was “permitting violent opposition demonstrators to physically attack the Embassy, assault the peaceful invitees and prevent them from entering the Embassy with supplies of food and water,” the letter says. “Video footage discloses multiple and on-going episodes of mob violence, including physical assaults, theft of food supplies, and the hurling of racist, sexist and homophobic slurs at those expressing to support the peace activists inside the Embassy.”
The embassy standoff was one of many disputes between the United States and Venezuela since Maduro took over the country’s leadership in 2013. Tensions increased last year when Maduro refused to relinquish the presidency after an election the U.S. State Department says was won by his political opponent.
In its latest move to punish Maduro, the U.S. government last week slapped new sanctions on four companies that operate in Venezuela’s oil industry.
“The illegitimate Maduro regime has enlisted the help of maritime companies and their vessels to continue the exploitation of Venezuela’s natural resources for the regime’s profit,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States will continue to target those who support this corrupt regime and contribute to the suffering of the Venezuelan people.”
In The News
WASHINGTON -- An FBI search of the Washington, D.C. home of a Russian oligarch this week is moving the Justice... Read More
WASHINGTON -- An FBI search of the Washington, D.C. home of a Russian oligarch this week is moving the Justice Department into the political minefield that comes from mixing foreign policy with legal enforcement. The FBI conducted what it called "law enforcement activity" at the home... Read More
WASHINGTON — Nine-term Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of lying to... Read More
WASHINGTON — Nine-term Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of lying to the FBI and concealing information from federal agents investigating campaign contributions illegally made to him by a Nigerian billionaire. The indictment stems from an FBI investigation... Read More
WASHINGTON -- Guns are again playing a big role in the courts and politics of Washington, D.C. after a champion... Read More
WASHINGTON -- Guns are again playing a big role in the courts and politics of Washington, D.C. after a champion of Second Amendment rights filed a new federal lawsuit to challenge a local law that seeks to restrict some firearms. This time, Dick A. Heller is... Read More
WASHINGTON -- Three American University students are appealing a ruling that dismissed their lawsuit demanding tuition refunds after the COVID-19... Read More
WASHINGTON -- Three American University students are appealing a ruling that dismissed their lawsuit demanding tuition refunds after the COVID-19 pandemic compelled a transition to online learning. They argue the university breached a contract and received unjust enrichment after they paid tens of thousands of dollars... Read More
Just days after a preliminary injunction allowed health care providers to resume performing abortions, a three-judge panel of the U.S.... Read More
Just days after a preliminary injunction allowed health care providers to resume performing abortions, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit temporarily restored a Texas law banning the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy. The ruling came two short days... Read More
MIAMI, Fla. - Three individuals and two companies have been permanently enjoined from operating an international mail fraud scheme offering... Read More
MIAMI, Fla. - Three individuals and two companies have been permanently enjoined from operating an international mail fraud scheme offering unwary consumers psychic, clairvoyant or astrological services, the Justice Department said on Friday. Robert Lhez, Mireille Dayer and Julie Poulleau, all residents of France, are alleged... Read More