A judge in New York City sentenced the nephews of Venezuela's first lady to 18 years in prison on Thursday, following their convictions on drug trafficking charges.
The Venezuelan citizens listened to the federal court proceedings through headphones and each delivered brief remarks before their sentences were handed down. "I know that I have made very serious mistakes in this case," said Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, according to Reuters.
His cousin Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas said he has always been a good person, "Even in jail I tried to help those who were in a worse psychological situation than I find myself in," and asked to be allowed back home to Venezuela soon to see family.
In November 2016, a jury in New York found Campo Flores, 30, and Flores de Freitas, 31, guilty of conspiring to smuggle more than 1,700 pounds of cocaine into the United States.
The men were arrested in Haiti one year earlier, after authorities said they contacted a Drug Enforcement Administration informant asking for help getting cocaine into the U.S.
Prosecutors had been seeking sentences of 30 years for the men, saying the cousins believed they were above the law because of their family connections.
The men's aunt, Cilia Flores, is married to Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela's embattled president.
But the defense said sentences of 10 years were more in order. The men's lawyers blamed the case on a flawed D.E.A. probe and said the men never actually transported the drugs and never even meant to.
U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty pointed to the cousins' ineptitude during Thursday's sentencing hearing.
"What moves me is that Mr. Campo Flores and Mr. Flores de Freitas were perhaps not the most astute drug dealers who ever existed," Crotty said. "They were in over their heads."
Crotty said the three decades the prosecution was seeking would have been excessive, noting that the men had no prior criminal backgrounds, reports Reuters.
Shortly after their convictions last year, Maduro spoke out about the case, saying it was an example of U.S. imperialism.