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After Guilty Plea For Flagless Ship Defendant Wanted and Got No Valhalla So Venezuela Calls

By Matthew Russell Lee, Periscope, Photos

SDNY COURTHOUSE, August 24 – A man pleaded guilty on August 21 to transporting cocaine on a stateless vessel; his lawyer requested and got no transfer to Valhalla so he can still call his family in Venezuela.

  It happened at the murky Magistrates Court of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Inside, Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein was asking how the U.S. has jurisdiction over the vessel, the case and this defendant. AUSA Elizabeth A. Hanft said there is letter from US Coast Guard Officer Samuel D. Irwin in the case file. And there is.

  The Federal Defender assigned to the case, or to this specific defendant, Clay Kaminsky asked that his client not be transferred to Valhalla because he would not be able to make telephone calls to Venezuela from there. He initially declined to give the Press the case number but then to his credit gave it. And he prevailed for his client: "ENDORSED LETTER as to Godofredo Leandro Gonzalez addressed to Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein from Clay H. Kaminsky dated 8/21/19 re: To request that your Honor direct the US Marshals Service to continue holding Mr. Leandro Gonzalez at MCC New York and not send him to Westchester County Jail through sentencing...ENDORSEMENT: The Court requests that Mr. Gonzalez be maintained at MCC or MDC pending sentence if placing him there does not represent an undue burden. (Signed by Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein on 8/21/19)."

   It turns out it is a case that Inner City Press covered on May 2, 2019, see below, before Judge Paul G. Gardephe. In that proceeding, Kaminsky said "We would like to resolve the case as soon as possible." Then AUSA Hanft told Judge Gardephe, "As would the government, Your Honor. We'll continue to discuss the best outcome with Mr. Kaminsky."

  The case is United States v. Leandro Gonzalez et al., 18-Cr-601 (PGG) and the man pleading guilty was the lead / named defendant Leandro Gonzalez. There are several other defendants, not represented by Federal Defenders. We'll have more on this.

   On August 21 there had been a change of plea scheduled for Judge Gardephe's courtroom on the 7th floor of 40 Foley Square. But when Inner City Press went there, his courtroom door was locked. Apparently the plea was delegated without notice to the Magistrates Court, where Magistrate Judge Gorenstein is on duty this week.

From May 2, 2019: Ten defendants charged in connection with an unflagged vessel carrying 624 kilos of cocaine in international waters were on May 2  brought before U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Paul G. Gardephe. Some, from Suriname, spoke only Dutch. Some connected to the case were await extradition from Croatia while one of the accused had extradition to the U.S. denied in a court in Spain, where that decision is being appealed.

  The First Step Act made the so-called safety value applicable to these maritime offenses. Judge Gardephe asked the many defense attorneys if their clients were ready to proffer to the government. One of the lawyers explained that his client is from Suriname, this is so different, so it will take time. Another complained of the difficult of reviewing confidential discovery material in Valhalla, and in the MCC. Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Hanft assured Judge Gardephe that she will calling the wardens and doing all she can. The overall case is USA v. Gonzalez et al., 18-cr-00601 (PGG).

  Not counting the two defendants presumably on their way from Croatia, and the lucky thirteen who may remain in Spain, the ten defendants actually in Judge Gardephe's courtroom on May 2 are being split into two separate cases. The first, with six defendants, will meet again June 20. The second, with four defendants -- Argemiro Zapata-Castro, Shervington Lovell, David Cardona-Cardona and Steven Antonius -- will not meet again until August 16, when one of the lawyers will be out of the country and another at an anti-death penalty training in Santa Clara. Could should an issue be the basis for Spain's refusal to extradite? Watch this site.


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