Professor pleads guilty to laundering $2 million in proceeds from Venezuelan corruption

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Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Attorneys office of Southern District of New York on October 10, 2019 in New York City. - Drew Angerer/Getty Images North America/TNS

MIAMI — University of Miami professor Bruce Bagley pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of money laundering after being charged with using bank accounts in his name and in the name of a company he created in Florida to launder more than $2 million in proceeds from a Venezuelan bribery and corruption scheme.

Bagley, recognized as an international scholar on drug cartels and money laundering, pleaded not guilty soon after his arrest in November 2019 in the New York case linked to South Florida, but filed a notice in March indicating that he planned to change his plea.

“Bruce Bagley (…) went from writing the book on crime — literally writing a book on drug trafficking and organized crime — to committing crimes,” said Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a press release. “Professor Bagley admitted today to laundering money for corrupt foreign nationals — the proceeds of bribery and corruption, stolen from the citizens of Venezuela. Bagley now faces the possibility of a long tenure in prison.”

The sentencing hearing for the 73-year-old professor was set for Oct. 1. Each money laundering count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Bagley — author of several books, including “Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime, and Violence in the Americas Today” — received monthly deposits of approximately $200,000 from Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates into the bank account of the company he had created, according to court documents.

He would then withdraw approximately 90% of the funds in the form of a cashier’s check, payable to an account held by another individual, and send the remainder of the funds to his personal account. Between November 2017 and October 2018, his company’s bank account received approximately $2.5 million from the overseas accounts.

Federal prosecutors say Bagley, who was often quoted by the news media on subjects ranging from violent drug traffickers in Mexico to guerrilla politics in Colombia, parlayed his mastery of Latin American crime into a secret side job and kept about $300,000 as a fee for himself.

An FBI investigation culminated in mid-November when South Florida agents arrested Bagley, shocking the University of Miami and fellow academics across Latin America. UM officials said he was placed on administrative leave and declined further comment. Faculty members who know him said Bagley, despite a seemingly fruitful career in academia, was having personal and financial problems.

According to the New York indictment, the illicit funds were diverted from a food company controlled by a Colombian individual into Bagley’s South Florida bank accounts as a consultant. While that individual is not identified, the Miami Herald has learned from several law enforcement and legal sources that he is Colombian businessman Alex Saab.

Last year, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Saab for allegedly profiting from a no-bid contract to import food to Venezuela for President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government — the very deal in which Bagley consulted Saab, sources told the Herald. In July, Saab also was indicted in Miami federal court on charges of money laundering tied to a public housing program run by Maduro. Bagley was not implicated in that case.

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