RICHMOND, Va. — Federal prosecutors dropped ammunition smuggling charges against Nancy Reagan's personal maid today, saying statements from two other defendants showed she was an unwitting participant.
Anita Castelo would have faced seven years in prison and more than $100,000 in fines for conspiring to export ammunition without a license and willfully exporting ammunition without a license.
Castelo, 45, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Paraguay, has helped the First Lady with her wardrobe since 1981. She pleaded innocent to the charges and has been on administrative leave since her indictment.
'Very Much Surprised'
"I am very, very happy," Castelo said. "I was very much surprised."
Her lawyer, Michael Morchower, said the Takoma Park, Md., resident would like to return to her White House job.
"If they call her, she'll be happy to go back," Morchower said. There was no immediate word from the White House, however, on whether Castelo will be asked to return.
She maintained that she was in Richmond to see friends and was just acting as an interpreter, trying to help a sales clerk understand her Paraguayan associate.
Change in Pleas
U.S. Atty. Henry Hudson said he decided to drop charges against Castelo after two other defendants in the case said they would change their pleas from innocent to guilty.
Paraguyan freighter captain Julio Baez Acosta, 39, and Eugenio Silva, 40, a Paraguayan now living in Richmond, were indicted Aug. 27 along with Castelo.
The three Paraguayans were arrested after 350,000 rounds of .22-caliber ammunition were seized on Baez Acosta's freighter, the Marischal Jose Felix Estigarribia, docked at Richmond's Deepwater Terminal on the James River.
Agents, tipped by clerks at a Richmond discount store, said Castelo had bought 10,000 rounds for Baez Acosta.
Silva and Baez Acosta will be sentenced Dec. 5, Hudson said. They each face up to 10 years in prison and $1 million in fines.
"What were they going to do, start their own war down there?" Judge Robert Merhige asked during today's proceedings.
"Your honor, the explanation the government received was that it was for hunting in Paraguay," Hudson said.