BY JORGE VALENCIA | Miami Herald
A South Florida businessman was sentenced to 2 � years in prison Friday morning for conspiring in a scheme to violate Cuba travel restrictions through licenses of bogus churches.
Victor Vazquez, 40, of Pompano Beach, was sentenced in a Miami federal court by U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck as one of the country’s first defendants charged for illegally obtaining religious travel licenses to circumvent a more than 44-year-old travel ban to Cuba.
The case has triggered other investigations by a U.S. Attorney’s task force targeting violators of the trade embargo against Cuba.
Vazquez, a former small business owner, had earlier pleaded guilty for conspiring to defraud the U.S. government.
Margolis, who pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of filing a false government application, will be sentenced on Monday.
The 76-year-old is a Fort Lauderdale real estate magnate who amassed a small fortune developing shopping centers and office parks through South Florida during the past 30 years.
A government investigation revealed a clever business model that allowed thousands of Cuban Americans to shuttle to and from Cuba.
In one instance cited in the court indictment, an application for religious travel was filed on behalf of a fake First Church of Christ. Local travel agencies then distributed letters authorizing travel to Cuba related to the church.
A pre-sentencing report last month said Vazquez sold the use of his licenses to 6,500 travelers.
Also sentenced on Friday were Vazquez’s ex-wife, Kekalani Vazquez, and a Hialeah travel agent, Yury Rodriguez.
Kekalani Vazquez had been enlisted by her husband and received three years of probation.
Rodriguez was a salesman at an agency connected with the scheme and received one year and one day in prison.
Vazquez and Rodriguez are scheduled to go to prison in January. Negotiating the date with the court, Celeste Higgins, Vazquez’s attorney, said her client is helping investigators looking into similar schemes.
‘‘This appears to be only the tip of the iceberg,’’ she told the judge.
The attorney also cited Vazquez’s recent marriage to a woman he met in Cuba.
Letters from a neighbor, business partners, friends and family filed with the court this week cited benevolent work he has done, which including helping a girl with cancer get a prosthetic leg, and mentoring an autistic niece.