Texas residents may be aware that many Venezuelan officials have been accused of engaging in corruption, but Texans may be surprised to learn that a respected academic who wrote books about despotic South American regimes has been accused of helping them to launder money. Federal prosecutors say the 73-yewar-old University of Miami professor made hundreds of thousands of dollars for himself in 2017 and 2018 by helping Venezuelan officials launder millions in stolen money.

U.S. attorneys have charged the professor with money laundering and conspiring to commit money laundering. Each of the three counts he faces carries a possible sentence of 20 years in a federal prison. According to court documents, about $200,000 was transferred each month from banks in Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates into accounts the professor had access to. The professor is accused of taking 10% of this money as a fee and distributing the rest to others. Prosecutors say that about $2.5 million was laundered in this way.

The professor is widely regarded as an expert on South American politics and organized crime. In 2015, he wrote a book about South American government officials working with drug traffickers and organized crime groups. The University of Miami responded to news of the arrest by announcing that the professor will be on administrative leave until the case has been resolved.

The prison sentences that the professor faces reveal how severe the penalties for committing federal crimes can be, but many cases involving fraud, embezzlement or money laundering are settled through plea agreements before they go to trial. When negotiating with U.S. attorneys, experienced criminal defense attorneys may seek more lenient treatment for their clients by mentioning mitigating factors. When powerful political figures or dangerous criminals are involved, one such mitigating factor might be a genuine fear that not agreeing to engage in illegal activities could result in violent retribution.