MIAMI – A former Venezuelan general who was organizing a volunteer army to overthrow Nicolas Maduro says he is unable to afford a legal defense in a U.S. narcotics case that charges him alongside gis homeland’s socialist president.
Gen. Cliver Alcala surrendered in March to face U.S. accusations that he led with Maduro and two others for two decades a narcoterrorist conspiracy that sent 250 metric tons of cocaine a year to the U.S. and turned the Venezuelan state into a platform for violent cartels and Colombian rebels. U.S. authorities had offered a $10 million reward for his arrest.
Prior to his surrender, Alcala was working with a former U.S. Green Beret, Jordan Goudreau, to train at secret camps in Colombia a volunteer army of Venezuelan military deserters plotting an incursion to remove Maduro. The operation went forward even after Alcala turned himself in, leading to the arrest of two former U.S. special forces members who participated in the raid and emboldening Maduro to crack down on his U.S.-backed opponents.
Despite being accused of wielding immense power as the head of international narcotics conspiracy, Alcala possesses no appreciable assets to pay for his defense, according to his lawyer, Adam S. Kaufmann. What “meager resources” Alcala had in Venezuela were seized by the Maduro government when he fled the country in 2018, Kaufmann said in a letter Monday to the New York federal judge overseeing the case.
“General Alcala himself has virtually no money – his wife and daughter live in Colombia and depend on the help of her relatives to support their basic daily needs,” said the letter..
Kaufmann asked the court to appoint him as private counsel at rates normally paid for federal public defenders.
Judge Alvin Hellerstein said Tuesday that Alcala must first file an affidavit attesting to his inability to afford adequate representation. Only then would Kaufmann and two associates be allowed to join the defense under the supervision of another attorney who is already accredited with the court, the judge said.
He said he is uniquely suited to defend Alcala because he has been representing him for free since 2014 in prior dealings with U.S. law enforcement, including his alleged relationship with Colombian rebels and his designation as a drug kingpin by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Alcala maintains his innocence and has been an outspoken critic of Maduro since before fleeing Venezuela in 2018.
Joshua Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman