St. Louis prosecutors seize assets in Venezuela money scheme

ST. LOUIS — Federal prosecutors in St. Louis have seized a plane, two multimillion dollar yachts and more than $1.8 million from two men connected to allegations of money laundering in Venezuela.

Hjalmar Gibelli-Gomez and Fabrizio Della Polla De-Simone have consented to the seizure and admitted to the money laundering, according to a Dec. 22 filing in U.S. District Court in St. Louis. The filing said the men bought the assets with profits from an illegal scheme to swap Venezuelan currency for U.S. dollars on the black market, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .

Prosecutors said Della Polla, a majority owner of a poultry farm, submitted false and inflated invoices worth more than $11 million through the insurance company Gibelli is president of in order to obtain U.S. dollars at a preferred rate.

The Venezuelan government enacted currency controls to prevent capital flight by people seeking to avoid economic, political and social instability, according to the federal court filing.

The filing said more than $170 million was wired between October 2011 and April 2015 into an account at Wells Fargo Advisors, which is based in St. Louis. Prosecutors said Gibelli bought a Raytheon Hawker 800 aircraft using funds from the Wells Fargo account. They also said he used $2.8 million from the account and $4.5 million from another account to buy a Ferretti Yacht called "Navigante," and Della Polla used $6.8 million for a Pershing Yacht called "Panacea."

Forfeiture cases such as the one in St. Louis have become common since the Venezuelan financial crisis and the country's efforts to control inflation by keeping currency in Venezuela, said Lilly Ann Sanchez, a Miami lawyer and former federal prosecutor.

Sanchez said prosecutors in some cases will seek the arrest of someone accused of laundering money if the person travels to the U.S. or a country that will extradite the person to the U.S. Another option is that attorneys can agree not to prosecute if someone consents to the forfeiture of the assets.

Court records don't list attorneys for the men.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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