Updated at: 11/14/2012 3:35 PM
By MICHAEL MELIA
(AP) HARTFORD, Conn. - A 67-year-old man was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison for his role in a record-breaking, $7 million robbery carried out in Connecticut nearly 30 years ago by a militant group dedicated to independence for Puerto Rico.
Norberto Gonzalez Claudio, who helped plan the 1983 heist as a leader of Los Macheteros, was captured by the FBI last year in Puerto Rico and pleaded guilty in June. The graying nationalist said through a Spanish interpreter in U.S. District Court in Hartford that nothing is more important to him than his family.
"I would like to be with my family as soon as possible," he said.
The sentencing of Gonzalez brings the U.S. government as close as it may ever get to resolving the crime: The only remaining fugitive in the case, alleged stickup man Victor Gerena, is believed to be living in Cuba, outside the reach of American law enforcement.
The first indictment was delivered in 1985 and a total of 19 defendants were charged including Gonzalez’s older brother, Avelino, who was sentenced in 2010 to seven years in prison after spending more than two decades as a fugitive. A third brother, Orlando, was also convicted of taking part in the robbery and was among family members in the courtroom Wednesday to support Norberto.
"This is kind of an end of an era for this district," defense attorney Richard Reeve said.
Norberto Gonzalez has been detained since he was arrested in May 2011 in the central island town of Cayey, where he had been living under a false name. U.S. authorities said he still had an active role in the Macheteros, which claimed responsibility for robberies, murders and bombings in the 1970s and `80s.
In June, he pleaded guilty to foreign transportation of stolen money, conspiracy to rob federally insured bank funds and illegal weapons possession.
His wife, Elda Santiago, said that Gonzalez is happy because he feels he is going to prison in the name of independence for Puerto Rico.
"He feels he is completing his patriotic duty," she said after the hearing.
Gonzalez was also sentenced to pay restitution of not less than $250 a month toward the stolen $7.1 million. The U.S. government has not recovered any of the stolen money, which authorities believe was used to finance bombings and attacks in the militant group’s push for independence.
The brazen holdup of the Wells Fargo depot on Sept. 12, 1983, in West Hartford, was the largest cash robbery in U.S. history at the time.
Authorities say it was carried out by Gerena, a Wells Fargo driver recruited by the Macheteros. He allegedly took two co-workers hostage at gunpoint, handcuffed them and injected them with an unknown substance to temporarily disable them. Gerena is one of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted fugitives, and the FBI is offering a reward of $1 million for information leading to his arrest.
"Justice in this case is not yet absolute and will not be until Victor Gerena, the alleged mastermind of the Wells Fargo robbery, is captured and himself brought to justice," said Kimberly Mertz, special agent in charge of the FBI in Connecticut.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)