Miami-Dade County

Bolivia’s anti-corruption chief charged with extorting airline executive in Miami

Only in Miami: The Bolivian government’s top anti-corruption cop is locked up in a downtown jail cell, accused of shaking down a foreign businessman here for $30,000 in exchange for making criminal charges brought against him back home go away.

Bolivian National Police Col. Mario Fabricio Ormachea Aliaga might be stuck in the Miami Federal Detention Center until trial, after the FBI arrested him on a charge of extorting Bolivian businessman Humberto Roca in Miami.

Ormachea, who has a bond hearing Friday, flew from Bolivia to Miami last week to meet with Roca about resolving the charges against the former owner of Aerosur Airlines in his native country. But instead of meeting with the colonel right away, Roca, on the advice of his lawyer, contacted the FBI — leading to his undercover role in a quickie sting operation that ended with Ormachea’s arrest Saturday.

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 a criminal complaint. Ormachea also told FBI agents that he had not traveled to Miami in his official role.

But Roca’s lawyer painted a sinister portrait of Ormachea, saying that he and other senior Bolivian government officials, including President Evo Morales, have orchestrated a campaign of political persecution against his client, who is now seeking asylum in the United States.

“This vindicates him,” attorney Michael Diaz Jr. told the Miami Herald. “We have been saying for quite some time that the Bolivian government has been shaking him down after stripping him of his business. When he wouldn’t play ball with them, he had to seek political asylum for himself and his family in the United States.”

Ormachea’s lawyer, assistant federal public defender Sowmya Bharathi, declined to comment about the charges, and said she will seek to have his bond hearing continued until Sept. 13. Prosecutor John Byrne is seeking the colonel’s detention before trial.

Diaz instructed his client to contact the FBI about Ormachea’s alleged extortion attempt last week and 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 on Friday of last week. 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.”

On Saturday, 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.

After Ormachea made that threat, Roca gave him $5,000, which had been provided by the FBI for the undercover operation, as a down payment toward resolving the charges against him. Then Ormachea left the meeting in his car and FBI agents stopped him. They recovered the $5,000 and arrested him on the extortion charge.

The affidavit did not explain the criminal charges of “illegal enrichment” filed against Roca in Bolivia.

Some details emerged in a lawsuit filed by Roca in Miami federal court 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.

“For speaking his mind, the government of Bolivia has effectively stripped him of his citizenship, has denied him even his basic human rights, has trumped up criminal charges against him, and has entered into a conspiracy with individuals in order to expropriate Roca’s assets — including a 51 percent controlling interest in an airline worth tens of millions of dollars.”