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05/01/98- Updated 12:49 AM ET

Witness says he was repaid for donations

WASHINGTON - A convicted member of a Venezuelan banking family testified Thursday that he and his aunt contributed $50,000 to the Democratic Party in 1992 and were reimbursed by his grandfather's foreign-owned business.

Jorge Castro Barredo, serving a bank fraud sentence in a New York state prison, said the contributions were arranged by the family's Miami lawyer - who told Castro Barredo he would get the money back.

Testifying in the House campaign fund-raising investigation, the witness said his grandfather - who headed the Venezuelan enterprise - attended a White House reception in October 1993 for Democratic donors and had his picture taken with President Clinton.

The grandfather also had a meeting with State Department officials, Castro Barredo said, so he could air a complaint that U.S. Embassy employees in Venezuela supported a business rival.

Contributions from foreign entities without U.S. operations are prohibited under federal law, as are donations that disguise the identify of the actual contributor.

Castro Barredo, a U.S. citizen, told the Government Reform and Oversight Committee that the Miami lawyer, Charles Intriago, "told me the name of what entities to make the checks to." The lawyer also arranged the Washington meetings for his grandfather, the witness said.

Intriago asserted his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to testify, but his lawyer wrote the committee a letter denying the allegations. The committee released a fax sent by Intriago to Castro Barredo in 1992 with instructions on where to send the donations.

Castro Barredo, who headed the family's now-failed bank in the Dominican Republic, said Intriago never identified anyone from a Democratic Party entity who sought the reimbursed contributions.

He and an aunt - also a U.S. citizen - each contributed $20,000 to the Democratic National Committee in 1992 and $5,000 to party accounts in Ohio and Florida for a total of $50,000. The same amount was wired to the personal accounts of Castro Barredo and his aunt about a week later, records showed.

Two prosecutors for the district attorney's office in New York who successfully prosecuted Castro Barredo, his grandfather and uncle, told the committee they passed on the contribution information to the Justice Department.

One of the prosecutors, Richard T. Preiss, said he was informed by the Justice Department last year that the agency had "no further role" for Castro Barreda to play in its federal campaign finance investigation.

Justice Department officials were not immediately available to comment on whether they declined prosecution in the case.

Democrats attacked the witness' motives, pointing out he was convicted of using depositors' money from his foreign-owned back for a yacht and a jet plane.

Castro Barredo acknowledged "my main objective" in testifying was Burton's promise to write New York authorities about his cooperation.

Rep. Henry Waxman of California, senior Democrat on the committee, said, "Mr. Castro's here because he thinks it will do him a lot of good."

Rep. Thomas Barrett, D-Wis., said, "You're here because you want to get out of jail."

"Down deep that's the reason," Castro Barredo replied.

He has served two years of a 3½-to-10½-year sentence and is eligible for work release.

By The Associated Press

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