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MH: Cuba travel ban violator sentenced

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  • Walter Lippmann
    MIAMI HERALD Posted on Sat, Oct. 13, 2007 Cuba travel ban violator sentenced BY JORGE VALENCIA http://www.miamiherald.com/top_stories/story/270206.html READ
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      MIAMI HERALD
      Posted on Sat, Oct. 13, 2007
      Cuba travel ban violator sentenced
      BY JORGE VALENCIA

      http://www.miamiherald.com/top_stories/story/270206.html


      READ THE COURT DOCUMENT (15 page pdf)
      http://media.miamiherald.com/smedia/2007/10/12/22/show_case_doc.source.prod_
      affiliate.56.pdf

      A South Florida businessman was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison Friday
      morning for conspiring in a scheme to violate Cuba travel restrictions
      through licenses of bogus churches.

      Victor Vazquez, 40, of Pompano Beach, was sentenced in a Miami federal court
      by U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck as one of the country's first defendants
      charged for illegally obtaining religious travel licenses to circumvent a
      more than 44-year-old travel ban to Cuba.

      The case has triggered other investigations by a U.S. Attorney's task force
      targeting violators of the trade embargo against Cuba.

      Vazquez, a former small business owner, had earlier pleaded guilty for
      conspiring to defraud the U.S. government.

      David Margolis, who pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of filing a false
      government application, will be sentenced on Monday.

      The 76-year-old is a Fort Lauderdale real estate magnate who amassed a small
      fortune developing shopping centers and office parks through South Florida
      during the past 30 years.

      A government investigation revealed a clever business model that allowed
      thousands of Cuban Americans to shuttle to and from Cuba.

      In one instance cited in the court indictment, an application for religious
      travel was filed on behalf of a fake First Church of Christ. Local travel
      agencies then distributed letters authorizing travel to Cuba related to the
      church.

      A presentencing report last month said Vazquez sold the use of his licenses
      to 6,500 travelers.

      Also sentenced on Friday were Vazquez's ex-wife, Kekalani Vazquez, and a
      Hialeah travel agent, Yury Rodriguez.

      Kekalani Vazquez had been enlisted by her husband and received three years
      of probation.

      Rodriguez was a salesman at an agency connected with the scheme and received
      one year and one day in prison.

      Vazquez and Rodriguez are scheduled to go to prison in January. Negotiating
      the date with the court, Celeste Higgins, Vazquez's attorney, said her
      client is helping investigators looking into similar schemes.

      ''This appears to be only the tip of the iceberg,'' she told the judge.

      The attorney also cited Vazquez's recent marriage to a woman he met in Cuba.

      Letters from a neighbor, business partners, friends and family filed with
      the court this week cited benevolent work he has done, which including
      helping a girl with cancer get a prosthetic leg, and mentoring an autistic
      niece.
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