Federal court

Miami airline executive recounts extortion attempt by Bolivia’s anti-corruption chief

 

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

A wealthy businessman who fled Bolivia under the threat of an “illegal enrichment” criminal charge testified Monday that the country’s top anti-corruption cop flew to Miami to shake him down for $30,000 to make the case disappear.

Humberto Roca, who obtained political asylum in the United States, met with Bolivian National Police Col. Mario Fabricio Ormachea Aliaga in Roca’s Miami Lakes home last August while the FBI recorded the alleged extortion attempt.

Roca, the former owner of Aerosur Airlines in Bolivia, played an undercover role in a quickie sting operation and gave Ormachea $5,000 cash, which federal agents recovered after arresting him.

“He told me that he would do something to make all the charges go away,” Roca testified on the first day of Ormachea’s extortion trial in Fort Lauderdale federal court. “He said that he could redirect the charges [against me] to another person.”

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors John Byrne and Jon Juenger plan to play for the jury an FBI video of the recorded encounter between Roca and Ormachea. It was videotaped in Roca’s garage, which he had converted to a game room.

Ormachea, who has been held without bond at the Miami Federal Detention Center since his arrest Aug. 31, faces up to 25 years in prison on racketeering and extortion charges.

After Roca initially gave Ormachea $5,000 as a down payment toward the alleged extortion demand, the colonel acknowledged meeting with Roca on two occasions, but denied trying to extort him, according to an FBI affidavit filed with the charges. Ormachea also told FBI agents that he had not traveled to Miami in his official role.

But in a lawsuit filed in Miami, Roca painted a darker portrait of Ormachea, saying that he and other senior Bolivian government officials, including President Evo Morales, orchestrated a campaign of political persecution against him — including seizing his company, Aerosur, which competed with Bolivia’s nationally owned airline.

Byrne, the prosecutor, asked Roca to sum up the Bolivian government’s charge against him: “That I took money that belonged to the state.”

“I was taken out,” Roca testified through a Spanish interpreter. “They filed charges against me and I was kicked out of Bolivia.”

Some details of his alleged crimes emerged in a federal suit filed by Roca in 2011, when he fled his homeland with other family members and settled in Miami Lakes.

“His only alleged ‘sin’ is that he spoke openly and publicly in Bolivia, asking that the government end its culture of corruption, create clear rules of law to be applied equally to all its citizens, not interfere in private business, and that it not unfairly compete with one of its largest and most respected corporate citizens,” stated Roca’s lawsuit, filed against the Bolivian government and others.

At Ormachea’s trial, assistant federal public defender Chantel Doakes tried to suggest that her client did not try to extort Roca. Instead, she argued that Bolivia’s anti-corruption chief wanted to help Roca, believed in his innocence and thought of him as a “good man.”

But prosecutors countered that Ormachea threatened Roca to pay him off — or the senior Bolivian police officer would pursue the illegal-enrichment charges against him and seek his extradition to Bolivia.

When Ormachea contacted Roca by telephone to say he was coming to Miami to meet him last August, Roca’s Miami attorney instructed him to contact the FBI about Ormachea’s alleged extortion attempt. Roca told agents that the charges filed against him in Bolivia were “politically motivated.”

At the direction of the FBI’s violent crime task force, Roca first met with Ormachea at his Miami Lakes home on Aug. 30. During the secretly recorded meeting, Ormachea “offered to dispose of the criminal charges pending against [Roca] in Bolivia for a fee of $30,000,” according to the FBI affidavit. “Ormachea agreed to take a payment of $10,000 immediately and receive the remainder of the payment later.”

The next day, Roca met again with Ormachea, who repeated the terms of the deal and added that he would “charge someone else instead.”

“If, however, [Roca] did not pay, Ormachea said that he would pursue [his] arrest in the United States, extradition to Bolivia and prosecution there,” the affidavit stated, describing the second recorded meeting.

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