U.S. seeks at least 30 years for nephews of Venezuela's first lady

By Brendan Pierson NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two nephews of Venezuela's first lady should serve at least 30 years in prison for their convictions in the United States on drug trafficking charges, U.S. prosecutors said on Monday. They said in a filing in federal court in Manhattan that the two men, Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, tried to make $20 million through drug trafficking so as to keep their family in power and to "enrich themselves while their countrymen starved in the streets." The men are nephews of Cilia Flores, the wife of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Under Maduro, oil-producing Venezuela has fallen into an economic and political crisis in which more than 120 people have died in four months of protests. The United States announced new sanctions against Maduro’s government in July. The prosecutors also said Flores de Freitas and Campo Flores lied in an effort to suppress evidence in the case. The prosecutors said that federal guidelines called for sentences of life imprisonment, though they asked only for "substantial terms of not less than 30 years." Lawyers for Flores de Freitas, 32, and Campo Flores, 30, could not immediately be reached for comment. In their own filing last month, they argued for a sentence "far beneath" the guidelines recommendation of life, saying prosecutors had proved only that the two men engaged in "bungling discussions of a drug plot that could never actually have been executed." Flores de Freitas and Campo Flores were convicted in November by a jury of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States. Days later, Maduro blasted the conviction in a speech as an instance of "U.S. imperialism." Maduro has frequently cast U.S. accusations of drug trafficking as a pretext for meddling in Venezuela and trying to topple him. Flores de Freitas and Campo Flores were arrested in Haiti in November 2015 and flown to the United States following a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting operation. Prosecutors said the two men plotted to use a Venezuelan airport’s presidential hangar to send 800 kgs of cocaine to Honduras for shipment into the United States. They said recordings of meetings with two DEA informants showed the nephews wanted the cash to counteract money they believed the United States was supplying to Maduro's opposition before Venezuela’s December 2015 National Assembly elections. Maduro's Socialist Party lost its parliamentary majority in that election. (Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Grant McCool)