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Associated Press Newswires

FBI Offers $1 Million For Capture Of Wells Fargo Suspect>


December 7, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - The FBI announced Tuesday that it will offer a $1 million reward for information leading to the capture of Victor Manuel Gerena, a former Wells Fargo guard accused of robbing an armored truck of $7 million in 1983.

The robbery of the Wells Fargo truck in West Hartford is considered an act of domestic terrorism because it was allegedly carried out by 19 members of the Puerto Rican nationalist group Macheteros, or Cane Cutters, the FBI said.

The reward is the largest offered for a fugitive in Connecticut history and sends a signal that the robbery and other old cases remain under active investigation, authorities said.

"The increased reward sends out a strong message to those who may contemplate engaging in terrorist-related criminal activity that the passage of time will not diminish law enforcement's resolve to find those who commit such acts and bring them to justice," said Michael J. Wolf, Connecticut's top FBI agent.

The government has said the group recruited Gerena to carry out the robbery, then helped him escape to Cuba. Proceeds from the robbery -- the largest in U.S. history at the time -- were used to fund acts of terrorism, Wolf said.

Gerena, who is on the FBI's list of top 10 most-wanted fugitives, allegedly injected two other guards with a sleeping substance to facilitate the robbery.

Gerena could be in Cuba, Mexico or Florida, Wolf said.

"Or he may be right here in the state of Connecticut," Wolf said. "He still has family in Connecticut."

Authorities hope the reward, up from $50,000, will encourage reluctant witnesses to come forward. The FBI also released new computer-enhanced photos Tuesday showing what they believe Gerena looks like today and said they plan to have the case featured again on America's Most Wanted television program.

Gerena is one of only two fugitives on the FBI's top 10 list who is allegedly tied to terrorist organizations. The other is Osama bin Laden.

"This is probably one of the most significant terrorist acts that ever occurred on Connecticut soil," said Kevin O'Connor, U.S. Attorney for Connecticut. "When it comes to terrorism, no file is too cold, no case is too old."

Gerena is one of four men still being sought in the robbery. A $500,000 reward has been offered for Macheteros leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios, who sometimes grants interviews to reporters and issues statements.

Ojeda Rios was released on bail in 1988 after about three years in prison awaiting trial in Connecticut. In 1990, while he was still awaiting trial, he cut off an electronic monitoring bracelet and went into hiding.

He was convicted in absentia in 1992 on charges of robbery, conspiracy and transportation of stolen money and was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

The two other fugitives are brothers, Avelino and Norberto Gonzalez Claudio.

One man imprisoned in the case, Juan Segarra Palmer, was granted clemency by President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Only about $80,000 of the stolen money has been recovered. The government believes most of it was used in Puerto Rico to finance the independence movement.

West Hartford Police Chief James Strillacci recalled how the robbery came during the same year as a series of arsons and a bridge collapse in the wealthy suburb of Hartford.

"1983 was a strange year in quiet little West Hartford," Strillacci said.

The business that Gerena allegedly used to rent a car in connection with the crime is gone, Strillacci said. But the same police officer continues to investigate the robbery, he said.

Gerena is about 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a medium stocky build, brown hair and green eyes. He has a one-inch scar and a mole on his right shoulder blade, authorities said.

The FBI said anyone with information on Gerena's whereabouts should immediately contact the nearest FBI office or local law enforcement agency.

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