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Judge orders suspect in 1983 Conn. robbery held without bail
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    HARTFORD, Conn. — A Puerto Rican nationalist charged in a multimillion-dollar 1983 robbery should be held without bail until his trial, a federal magistrate ruled Tuesday.
    Authorities say Avelino Gonzalez-Claudio, 65, arrested earlier this year in Puerto Rico, was one of more than a dozen alleged members of the group Los Macheteros who carried out the $7 million heist at the Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford.
    The robbery was one of the largest in American history.
    Gonzalez pleaded not guilty in February to 15 federal charges including robbery and conspiracy. He was arrested without incident earlier that month in the Puerto Rican town where he had been living under an assumed name.
    In his ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Smith agreed with federal prosecutors that there was no way to ensure that Gonzalez would not flee if he were released on bail. He rejected the government’s other argument against bail, that Gonzalez is a danger to society.
    ‘‘He knew if he stayed in Hartford he’d be taken into custody and put on trial. He had no intention of facing those charges,’’ Smith said.
    Gonzalez’s attorney, James Bergenn, had proposed house arrest and electronic monitoring for Gonzalez. Bergenn says his client’s membership in the Macheteros was not a crime and accused prosecutors of making unsubstantiated claims about him.
    But Smith said Gonzalez had escaped prosecution for more than 20 years. He called the heist the largest bank robbery in American history and the charges ‘‘incredibly serious.’’ Gonzalez faces more than 250 years in prison if convicted of all counts.
    Bergenn said after the hearing he had not decided whether to appeal Smith’s ruling.
    The Macheteros, whose name translates as ‘‘Machete Wielders’’ or ‘‘Cane Cutters,’’ are suspected of using the stolen millions to finance bombings and attacks designed to promote independence for the U.S. territory.
    One of Gonzalez’s sons, Oscar Gonzalez, said after the hearing that his father is being prosecuted because he favors independence for Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth. ‘‘It’s a political fight in Puerto Rico,’’ he said.
    The Macheteros’ alleged leader, Filiberto Ojeda Rios, was killed in a 2005 shootout with the FBI at a remote farmhouse in Puerto Rico.
    The robbery was allegedly carried out by Victor Gerena, a Wells Fargo driver recruited by the independence group. Authorities say Gerena took two co-workers hostage at gunpoint, handcuffed them and injected them with an unknown substance to disable them.
    Gonzalez is accused of helping to get Gerena and the half-ton of cash out of the United States.
    Two suspects, Gerena and Gonzalez’s brother, Norberto Gonzalez-Claudio, remain at large, and Gerena is on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

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