Salvador Aide Gets Probation in $5.9-Million U.S. Smuggling Case
A federal judge Wednesday sentenced two men, including an adviser to a conservative Salvadoran leader, to five years’ probation for trying to smuggle $5.9 million out of the country.
Francisco Guirola Beeche, of Albuquerque, N.M., and El Salvador, and Oscar Rodriguez Feo, of Miami, were also fined $250,000 each and relinquished their claim to the confiscated money.
In a plea-bargain arrangement with prosecutors in April, Guirola pleaded no contest and Rodriguez pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to leave the country with more than $10,000 without notifying U.S. Customs officials.
U.S. District Judge Hayden Head Jr. said the punishment “doesn’t fit the crime.”
“I don’t know what you were up to. This conduct cannot be tolerated, especially for someone trying to obtain American citizenship,” he told Guirola.
Head questioned Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert Berg about the plea bargain, asking if the government had a weak case. Berg said that the agreement had been made to keep the money from falling into the “wrong hands.”
Federal prosecutors have linked the seizure with transfers of large sums of cash to El Salvador and suspected drug smuggling.
A passport taken from Guirola after his arrest listed him as an independent adviser to the Salvadoran state assembly and was signed by Roberto d’Aubuisson, leader of the right-wing ARENA party.
ARENA opponents in El Salvador claimed that the money was destined for El Salvador to fund right-wing political activities. Guirola’s wife, Gloria, has testified that her husband joined ARENA in 1979 after losing the family farm to land reform.
The $5.9 million is in the Federal Reserve Bank in San Antonio.
Defense attorneys and the defendants refused to speak with reporters after the hearing. During the hearing, Guirola and Rodriguez said nothing.
Charges against a third man, Miami pilot Gus Maestrales, were dropped, and his T-39 Saberliner plane was returned last week, attorneys said. Maestrales claimed that Guirola and Rodriguez were merely his passengers and that he did not know the men were carrying the money.