- Associated Press - Monday, November 7, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) - A U.S. prosecutor told jurors Monday that two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady thought they were so powerful they could ship a ton of cocaine to the United States, but lawyers for the men ridiculed the government’s case as so flawed that the jury will have to acquit.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Emil Bove pointed at Efrain Campo, 30, and Francisco Flores, 31, in the Manhattan courtroom as he promised to reveal “a great deal of evidence” to prove that the men conspired last year to import 800 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S. before they were arrested in Haiti.

“They believed they were so powerful in their country that they could ship nearly a metric ton of cocaine from airport to airport without any problem,” Bove said of the nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores.

He told jurors they would see Campo on video holding a kilogram of cocaine and would hear Flores brag that he could arrange to ship drugs from the presidential hangar at a Venezuelan airport.

“The defendants were caught red handed,” Bove said, recounting how they confessed to a U.S. agent after their arrest that they knew drug shipments they were arranging would end up in the U.S.

Top Venezuelan officials have said the two nephews were “kidnapped” by the U.S. as part of a plan to destabilize President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

Campo attorney John Zach said a deeply flawed investigation guaranteed jurors will be left with “tremendous doubt” about the evidence.

He said no drugs ever changed hands and government informants routinely destroyed or manipulated evidence. Zach said a Honduran drug dealer picked up by U.S. agents and looking to escape prosecution hunted for “expendable and stupid” men who might be susceptible to offers of tens of millions of dollars to join a phony drug conspiracy.

Zach said Campo and Flores were vulnerable targets because they lived modestly in Caracas, one of the most dangerous cities in the world where kidnappings and murders are common.

He cited “a handful of stupid, stupid decisions by my client and his cousin that do not equal a drug conspiracy.”

The lawyer said investigators and a father-son team of informants who had received nearly $2 million to build cases for the U.S. government marveled at how ignorant the nephews were about the drug trade even as they worked to build a case against them. The informants recently pleaded guilty to criminal charges that they dealt drugs for years while helping the U.S. pursue drug dealers.

Calling the nephews “very stupid men,” Zach said they thought they could make up to $50 million in cash without delivering drugs.

He called his client “utterly clueless” about the drug trade.

“It’s almost embarrassing,” Zach said.

Attorney Michael Mann, representing Flores, agreed the nephews were naive and sometimes tried “to sound like big shots.”

He said their political connections were at the heart of the case and a big reason they were targeted.

“They tricked these guys. They set them up,” Mann said.

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