March 5, 2007
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida has charged defendants Victor Vazquez and David Margolis with conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions laws restricting travel to Cuba. In a criminal complaint unsealed February 22, 2007, the defendants are accused of making a materially false application to the Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") for religious activity based licenses for Cuba-related travel transactions. Vazquez is additionally charged with two counts of making false statements in two license applications for travel to Cuba for religious purposes. The defendants face five years’ imprisonment for each charge.
The Cuban Assets Control Regulations, administered by OFAC, bars U.S. citizens and persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction from engaging in Cuba-related travel transactions without a license. Under the regulations, OFAC may issue a license authorizing a religious organization and its representatives to engage in Cuba-related travel transactions in support of the organization’s religious work. The transactions must be part of a full-time program of religious activities in Cuba under the auspices of the organization.
According to the government’s complaint, the defendants provided false information to OFAC to obtain licenses for several non-existent churches. These licenses were then allegedly given to travel service providers, who sold their use to persons who could not otherwise legally travel to Cuba. Through this scheme, between April 2006 and January 2007, more than 4,500 trips to Cuba were made using these fraudulently obtained OFAC licenses.
These prosecutions demonstrate the U.S. government’s continued aggressive enforcement of its embargo against Cuba. According to United States Attorney Alex Acosta, "the United States Attorney’s Office is determined to enforce vigorously the sanctions program against the Cuban regime, with the aim of hastening a transition to democracy in Cuba.”
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