- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2000

The Cuban government paid for Elian Gonzalez's chartered flight to Havana through a Miami firm headed by a woman whose $22,000 donation to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign was returned when it was learned the woman had ties to a convicted drug smuggler.
Vivian Mannerud Verble heads a Miami-based firm known as Airline Brokers Company Inc., which arranged all of the chartered flights to and from Havana involving Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, his grandmothers and other Cubans.
Mrs. Verble has been linked to convicted drug trafficker Jorge "Gordito" Cabrera, a Cuban-born U.S. citizen sentenced to 19 years in a Florida prison and fined $1.5 million for his conviction in the transportation of 6,000 pounds of cocaine into the United States.
It was that connection that prompted Mrs. Clinton's New York senatorial campaign in April to return the $22,000 donation the "the largest single contribution" to her soft money fund. Campaign officials returned the cash after determining the donation was "inappropriate," according to the first lady's spokesman, Howard Wolfson.
Mrs. Verble, also a Cuban-American, served as the fund-raising intermediary between Cabrera and the Democratic National Committee in 1995. After giving $20,000 to the DNC, Cabrera attended a 1995 White House Christmas party with President Clinton, where he had his picture taken with the first lady. He also attended a fund-raiser in Miami in December 1995, where he was photographed with Vice President Al Gore.
His $20,000 contribution in November 1995 was returned after DNC officials learned of his arrest.
House investigators said Cabrera wrote the DNC check from an account to which he had diverted illicit drug profits. They said the donation came after Mrs. Verble talked with Cabrera in November 1995 at the Copacabana Hotel in Havana an accusation the Miami businesswoman, who has not been charged with any crime, has denied.
Mrs. Verble confirmed in a telephone interview Thursday she arranged the flights for the Gonzalez family through the Cuban government and the National Council of Churches, which served as intermediary with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in the dispute over Elian's custody.
"I think I was chosen because of public statements I made earlier this year that I would be willing to fly Elian and other members of his family to and from Havana as the process continued," she said, acknowledging that she arranged for the jet to Havana this week and was paid by the Cuban government for the flight.
"The National Council of Churches called me because they knew my company was licensed by the U.S. government to arrange for charter flights into Cuba," she said.
Her firm is one of only a handful licensed by the Treasury Department to charter flights between the United States and Cuba. It handled flight arrangements for the Baltimore Orioles when they played reciprocal games last year with the Cubans.
The National Council of Churches helped defray much of the costs for Juan Miguel Gonzalez and others, including legal fees, through a humanitarian fund established by the board's executive committee.
Mrs. Verble herself is no stranger to the Democratic Party. She attended an October 1995 White House coffee with Mr. Gore, DNC Chairman Donald L. Fowler, DNC Finance Chairman Marvin S. Rosen and oil financier Roger Tamraz, now an international fugitive who donated thousands of dollars to the DNC.
Elian flew home Wednesday aboard the chartered jet to a hero's welcome in Havana. The flight came after the Supreme Court rejected a final plea from members of the boy's Miami relatives, who had sought his custody since he was plucked from the sea in November.
The plane landed in Havana shortly before 8 p.m., marking a victory for Cuban President Fidel Castro, who made the boy an icon of his revolution. With the Supreme Court refusing to intervene, a legal injunction keeping Elian in this country expired at 4 p.m. and at 4:31, the private jet carrying Elian and his family back to Cuba took off.
Elian's mother, her boyfriend and nine others perished when their boat sank. The boy and two others were the only survivors. His great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, won temporary custody of Elian and the boy stayed with his Miami relatives until federal agents seized him at gunpoint in a pre-dawn April 22 raid.
Cabrera was arrested in January 1996, a month after the White House party, by undercover detectives who confiscated cocaine, $50,000 in cash, several boxes of illegal Cuban cigars and photos of Cabrera with Cuban President Fidel Castro.
He was indicted in 1983 by a federal grand jury in Miami on racketeering and drug charges and charged in 1988 with managing a continuing narcotics operation. In both cases, he pleaded guilty to lesser charges conspiracy to bribe a witness and income-tax evasion.
According to federal election records, Cabrera gave the money to the DNC on Nov. 9, 1995, and was invited a month later to a political fund-raiser attended by Mr. Gore in Miami and a pre-Christmas event at the White House.

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