A nephew of Venezuela's first lady has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court an 18-year sentence for conspiring to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine.

Francisco Flores and his cousin, Efrain Campo, were found guilty in 2016 in a highly charged case that gave off a hard look at U.S. accusations of drug trafficking at the highest levels of President Nicolás Maduro's socialist administration.

In March, prosecutors sued Maduro himself for leading an alleged "narco-terrorist" conspiracy that provided the U.S. 250 metric tons of cocaine annually.

Flores' attorney argued in a petition posted on Tuesday that the jury was misled when a Manhattan federal judge told them that the men should have known that the cocaine was bound for the U.S. This is a requirement for conviction under U.S. law.

The petition that they filed before the U.S. Supreme Court said the two men at no moment in wiretapped recordings could be heard even asking about the shipment's final destination. This was when they were negotiating with informants under the supervision of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The petition added that when the informants inserted on 13 recorded instances general references to drug trafficking in the U.S., the men were silent or reacted with inaudible responses.

"The only evidence cited with respect to Flores's supposed deliberate avoidance of knowledge was that he and Campo remained effectively silent-i.e. did not seek confirmation or clarification-when the DEA informants dropped their various oblique hints," the petition said.

Campo and Flores

The two men were arrested in Haiti in a DEA-led operation in 2015. They were immediately removed to New York to face trial.

Campo and Flores were lured to the Caribbean island with a promise of an $11 million advance from a wheelchair-bound trafficker they met in Honduras. The trafficker was named "El Sentado."

The two men did not know that "El Sentado" was a DEA informant. A meeting in Caracas happened, in which a sample of the said narcotic was present. No drugs were seized when they were arrested.

The two men were apprehended near the airport in Port au-Prince after arriving in a private jet from Caracas.

In their two-week trial, Campo and Flores' lawyers claimed that no drugs were exchanged, and the men never planned to deliver any. Prosecutors' star witness, Jose Santos-Pena, was a DEA informant and was later found to have lied to his handlers.

It is unclear who is paying for Flores' legal fee. Michael Levy, a lawyer at Austin, declined to comment. But in the lower court trial, his legal bill was flipped by Wilmer Ruperti.

Ruperti was a Venezuelan shipping magnate close to Maduro's administration. Flores is one of the most powerful members of Venezuela's revolutionary government and a constant companion of Maduro whenever he appears in public.

Maduro and his first lady made almost no mention of their loved ones' conviction in the United States. Prosecutors claimed in a court filing that the two men tried to make $20 million through drug trafficking to keep their family in power.

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