Money-Laundering Suspect a Man of Contrasts
Rama Vyasulu, the Miami businessman whose arrest has caused havoc in Venezuelan financial circles, is a major figure in U.S.-Venezuelan trade.
BY GERARDO REYES, JAY WEAVER AND CASTO OCANDO
EL NUEVO HERALD
The Miami businessman who threw sand into the gears of Venezuela’s economic engine is a rumpled, reserved 57-year-old fluent in four languages who is said to conduct major financial transactions on a $30 cellphone.
He lists his corporate headquarters as a mailbox at a UPS Store in Doral.
Despite these modest trappings, Rama Vyasulu is a big player in international trade between the United States and Venezuela. And his arrest last month on money-laundering charges is causing Venezuela big problems.
Vyasulu is accused of agreeing to launder $900,000 in drug proceeds, a deal that was staged as part of a government sting operation.
That $900,000 was frozen by the feds, as was another $240 million controlled by Vyasulu but belonging mostly to Venezuelan companies that exchange dollars for bolivars, the Venezuelan currency.
With their $240 million tied up, Venezuelan companies are having a hard time getting their hands on dollars. A lack of dollars puts a crimp in their ability to conduct trade with the United States because they need dollars to buy U.S. imports.
On Friday, a shackled Vyasulu listened to a federal magistrate postpone his case until Monday, when the amount of his bail will be discussed — as well as the conditions for his extradition to Boston, where the alleged money laundering originated.
Vyasulu’s attorney, Sam Rabin, downplayed the government’s allegations. Rabin said his client was approached by DEA undercover agents or informants who spoke ”code” about transferring money from Boston to Miami.
”He steadfastly denies he was breaking the law,” Rabin said of his client. “My understanding is, they didn’t mention the word cocaine or drugs or controlled substance when they spoke with him. This, to him, was a financial transaction.”
Federal authorities, who could not speak on the record, said the joint prosecution by the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston and the Justice Department goes beyond Vyasulu — although no one else has been charged since his indictment was unsealed last week.
Although the registered headquarters for Rosemont P., one of several firms he founded with the Rosemont name to handle his business, is Suite 407 at 9737 NE 41st St., ”Suite 407” is mailbox 407 in The UPS Store at that address, El Nuevo Herald has verified.
Vyasulu, president of Rosemont P., actually works out of a small real-estate office a few miles from the UPS store, according to his neighbors. He is fluent in Hindi, German, English and Spanish, and has been described by those who know him as a serious and responsible man.
Gerardo Díaz, owner of Impex Associates, a financial consulting firm in Coral Gables, doesn’t have very fond memories of the financier.
Díaz said he hired Vyasulu as a banking adviser and the two had a falling out over thousands of dollars in commissions that Vyasulu received. In 2003, Díaz sued Vyasulu in a state court, alleging a breach of trust. Vyasulu filed a counterclaim against Díaz three years later in a Miami federal court, alleging a conspiracy to defraud. The parties reached a settlement in mediation.
According to Díaz, Vyasulu had high-level contacts in the Dominican Republic and a close business relationship with a Venezuelan military colonel.
According to the Boston indictment, Vyasulu agreed to launder the $900,000 between November 2008 and last month, through a Bank of America account belonging to Rosemont.
An attorney for Rosemont, Michael R. Band, said the prosecution’s case is overreaching. He asserted that the Doral-based business, formed in 2005, has moved more than $1 billion through dozens of accounts at the Bank of America to Venezuela with no problems in the past.
”We’re here . . . to make the government aware that the bulk, if not all, of the funds are legitimate,” Band said.
Band, a former veteran state prosecutor in Miami-Dade County, said the frozen accounts have prevented dozens of Rosemont’s customers from obtaining dollars, including U.S. Embassy employees, businesses and others in Venezuela.
”You’re talking about individuals who have been harmed by this, to corporations that cannot pay their taxes in Venezuela,” he said.
Vyasulu — full name Rama Krishna Kuchibhotla Vyasulu — is the son of an Indian diplomat who served in Venezuela and Mexico. Vyasulu did some undergraduate work at the University of London in 1968 and graduated from the University of the Americas of Mexico in 1971, according to a promotional brochure about his firm.
He was awarded a master’s degree in business from Thunderbird Graduate School of International Management in Arizona, before beginning a long career in banking that took him to positions such as the vice presidency of Dresdner Bank Latein Amerika and — for at least six months — regulator for Latin America at the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta.
Vyasulu was married in Venezuela to a woman from Germany. They had three children. The marriage ended, and during his divorce he met Tania Gonzalez, a commercial law attorney who had been a flight attendant for a Venezuelan airline. They married in Miami at a civil ceremony in 2001. Gonzalez was 37, and he was 50.
In Venezuela, Vyasulu served as the executive vice president of Banco Caracas, N.V., and participated in the creation of Bancaracas International Banking Corp. in Puerto Rico, according to a Rosemont company brochure.
He held the positions of executive vice president and director of Centennial Bank USA, N.A., in New York and vice president of Banco de Venezuela Internacional in Miami and New York.
He also served as deputy manager of Banco de Venezuela SAICA and vice president and representative in several Latin American nations for Marine Midland Bank.
According to the brochure, the philosophical pillars of his company are “transparency, initiative and professionalism.”