Venezuelans tied to anti-Maduro plot sentenced to 6 years

FILE – In this May 3, 2020 file photo, Veneuzuelan security forces guard the shore and a boat in which authorities claim a group of armed men landed in the port city of La Guaira, Venezuela, calling it an armed maritime incursion from neighboring Colombia. A judge in Colombia has sentenced three Venezuelan men on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, to six years in prison for helping organize the ill-conceived plot to remove President Nicolás Maduro involving former American Green Berets. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix, File)

MIAMI (AP) — A judge in Colombia has sentenced three Venezuelan men to six years in prison for helping organize an ill-conceived plot to remove President Nicolás Maduro involving former American Green Berets.

The sentence handed down late Tuesday was the minimum allowed for the crimes, according to an attorney for the three co-defendants who spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

In March, the men pleaded guilty to working alongside Jordan Goudreau, a former U.S. Green Beret and Iraq war veteran, in organizing a rag tag army of a few dozen Venezuelan military deserters intent on overthrowing Venezuela’s socialist leadership. Plans included raiding military installations as well as the presidential palace.

The so-called Operation Gideon — or the Bay of Piglets, as the bloody fiasco came to be known — ended with six insurgents dead and two of Goudreau’s former Special Forces buddies behind bars in Caracas. But the plot really never stood a chance of succeeding against Maduro’s loyal and heavily armed military after having been thoroughly infiltrated months earlier.

Two of the men sentenced Tuesday, National Guard Maj. Juvenal Sequea and Juven Sequea, are the older brothers of the confessed commander of the failed May 3 incursion, Capt. Antonio Sequea, who is jailed in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas. The third person, Rayder Russo, has long sought Maduro’s armed overthrow.

As part of the plea bargain agreement reached in March the men accepted a single charge of providing logistical support to an illegal armed group. Charges for a more serious offense of providing military training were dropped as part of their collaboration.

None of the men participated in the failed raid, having abandoned the secret camps in northern Colombia where the rebels were gathering, in some cases months before it was launched. Testimony from other Venezuelan deserters, one of whom was arrested transporting a weapon and a large number of cellular phones, nonetheless placed each of the men in leadership positions of the plot alongside Goudreau and the plot’s ringleader, retired Venezuelan Army Gen. Cliver Álcala.

A fourth defendant in the Colombian investigation, Yacsy Álvarez, is fighting charges that she helped smuggle weapons to the volunteer army. She has accused Colombian authorities of being in constant contact with Álcala.

Álvarez served as Goudreau’s translator during his visits to Colombia and the two opened an affiliate of his small Florida security firm Silvercorp, in mid-2019. It listed its address at an upscale hotel in Barranquilla, according to Colombian public records.

She also flew with Goudreau and the two other former Green Berets — Luke Denman and Airan Berry — to Barranquilla aboard a Cessna jet belonging to her boss, businessman Franklin Durán, who has a long history of deal-making with the Venezuelan government. At the time, Álvarez was living in the Caribbean coastal city and working as a director in a unit of Durán’s auto lubricants company.

According to the sentence read in court, the Colombian investigation was prompted by the March 23, 2020 seizure of a cache of 26 assault rifles and tactical equipment it was later revealed were dispatched by Álvarez and destined for the rebels in the desert-like La Guajira peninsula that Colombia shares with Venezuela.

The man coordinating the clandestine effort, Álcala, took responsibility for the weapons hours before turning himself in on March 26 to face U.S. drug charges.

Álcala, who is now awaiting trial in New York, said the weapons belonged to the “Venezuelan people.” He also lashed out against opposition leader Juan Guaidó, accusing him of betraying a contract he had signed with “American advisers” to remove Maduro.

The U.S. has denied any direct role in the attempted raid just as Venezuela’s opposition has taken distance from Goudreau, despite having previously signed with him an agreement to conduct a snatch and grab operation inside Venezuela.

Other than a $50,000 payment for expenses, Silvercorp was never paid. And Goudreau during the raid acknowledged going ahead with the invasion without Guaidó’s support even though he later sued one of Guaidó’s aides, Miami-based political analyst J.J. Rendon, for breach of contract.

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Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman

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