Bolivia’s convicted anti-corruption chief did not testify at his Fort Lauderdale federal trial on extortion charges in March. But on Friday, former Bolivian National Police Col. Mario Fabricio Ormachea Aliaga delivered a long-winded plea for a short prison sentence.
It didn’t work. He got three years.
In an only-in-South Florida criminal case, Ormachea was convicted of extorting a rich Bolivian businessman living in Miami Lakes for $30,000 in exchange for making trumped-up charges against him disappear back home.
Ormachea’s wealthy target was Humberto Roca, former owner of Aerosur Airlines, who fled Bolivia for the United States in 2011 after he was charged with “illegal enrichment” in his native country.
“He tracked down Mr. Roca and he made these threats,” U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum said, rejecting Ormachea’s bid for a 1 1/2-year sentence. “That is a crime in the United States. ... We don’t want that going on in the United States.”
Ormachea, who has been incarcerated at the Federal Detention Center in Miami since his arrest last August, told the judge that he never meant any harm to Roca.
“There was no threat of death, no threat of serious injury, no threat of damage to property,” Ormachea told Rosenbaum.
He also told the judge that his crime has ruined him and his family: “I made a mistake that I will regret to the last day of my life.”
The criminal case against Ormachea, a veteran law enforcement officer in his native country, resulted from an FBI undercover operation.
Last August, Ormachea traveled to Miami to confront Roca about the illegal enrichment charges filed against him in Bolivia.
According to trial evidence, Ormachea told Roca that he thought he was an innocent man but threatened to pursue the trumped-up charges against him in Bolivia if he didn’t pay him $30,000. On Aug. 31, Roca made a down payment of $5,000 in cash to Ormachea — a transaction videotaped by federal agents in the converted garage of Roca’s Miami Lakes home.
Assistant federal public defender Chantel Doakes said her client never threatened Roca and that he actually wanted to help him — for a price.
Doakes said Ormachea wanted to be paid for “his influence in Bolivia, not here.”
Prosecutor John Byrne challenged that key point, asserting that the jury found Ormachea traveled to Miami to threaten Roca with the bogus criminal charges in Bolivia if he did not pay up. “That’s pretty scary,” Byrne said.
After his arrest, Ormachea told FBI agents that he had not traveled to Miami in his official role.
But on Friday, he told the judge: “I firmly believe I abused my position as a public officer and I did ask for money.”
His target, Roca, had built a business empire in Bolivia before fleeing to Miami in 2011.
In a lawsuit filed in Miami, Roca accused senior Bolivian government officials, including President Evo Morales, of directing a campaign of political persecution against him — including seizing his company, Aerosur, which competed with Bolivia’s nationally owned airline.
At trial, Roca testified that he obtained political asylum in 2012 after he and other members of his family fled Bolivia and settled in Miami Lakes. Roca testified that he was charged in Bolivia with taking “money that belonged to the state.”
He said Ormachea threatened that if he did not pay the bribes, the senior Bolivian police officer would seek his extradition to Bolivia on criminal charges.
He testified that Ormachea contacted him by telephone to say he was coming to Miami to meet him last August. Roca’s Miami attorney Michael Diaz Jr. instructed him to contact the FBI about the extortion attempt.
The FBI directed him to play an undercover role in the sting operation, which played out in Roca’s Miami Lakes home over two days.