Crime

Former ‘chief’ in Venezuela national police charged with threatening ‘dissident’ in Miami

A former senior official in Venezuela’s national police agency has been arrested in Miami on a charge of issuing a chilling kind of death threat — a video showing a “graphic execution” by shotgun.

Orlando Blasini Escobar Mayora, stopped after his arrival at Miami International Airport, is accused of transmitting the video showing a man being killed with a shotgun blast to the head and multiple gunshots to the body. He allegedly sent the video to numerous contacts on his cellphone, authorities said.

“This is to scare you,” a message attached to the video reads. It was included in a Department of Homeland Security Investigations complaint charging Escobar with transmitting the video.

Federal agents discovered the video on Escobar’s cellphone after he was stopped on Sunday at MIA. In addition, they found that a “dissident” from Venezuela claimed he had received threatening voicemails from Escobar after he had spotted him at a Miami bakery in January, according to a Homeland Security affidavit.

Escobar later left one cellphone message that allegedly threatened to hurt the man, who was granted asylum in the United States, “in the place where it would hurt … the most.” He left a follow-up message that allegedly said: “I swear to God, I will destroy you.”

The unnamed target, who complained to federal authorities, said he interpreted these messages “to mean that Escobar was going to kill or hurt” him or his family, according to the Homeland Security affidavit. But the target was not among Escobar’s contacts who received the snuff-like video, the affidavit said.

Escobar served in Venezuela’s national police agency — that country’s version of the FBI — during the era of the late President Hugo Chávez. In the affidavit, Escobar was described as a former “police chief” in the Chávez government.

He returned to Miami on Sunday and was ordered detained by a magistrate judge in federal court on Wednesday. Escobar, 47, awaits a bond hearing on March 20.

His defense attorneys, Michael Diaz and Robert Targ, jointly told the Miami Herald: “We're just investigating the allegations and have no comment until we've completed the investigation.”

The Escobar case, prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Gregorie, is the latest scandal surrounding an ex-official in the former Chávez government.

In prior cases, federal authorities have alleged that former military and other officials in that government provided protection for Colombian drug traffickers in exchange for kickbacks from cocaine-smuggling profits.

Last summer, Gregorie unveiled indictments linking former high-ranking officials in Chávez's administration to Colombian cartel bosses accused of exporting cocaine through Venezuela to the United States.

The prosecutor disclosed the cases after former Venezuelan judge Benny Palmeri-Bacchi was arrested at MIA in July.

Accused of impeding a major drug trafficker's extradition, Palmeri-Bacchi was at the center of a long-secret criminal investigation targeting a former Venezuelan Interpol director, Rodolfo McTurk, as well as a former military intelligence chief, Hugo Carvajal Barrios. The latter was arrested in Aruba but not turned over to U.S. authorities.

Palmeri-Bacchi, who worked as a judge, prosecutor and attorney in Venezuela, also was charged with money laundering and obstruction of justice conspiracies, along with extortion. He allegedly threatened a man identified as J.C.S. and his family “with force, violence and fear” to obtain money and property from him. J.C.S. was described in an indictment as the owner of a Realty company and real estate school.

In court, Gregorie asserted that Palmeri-Bacchi sent threatening emails to J.C.S. with attachments. Those attachments included a video of someone being murdered as well as pictures of prisoners being sodomized in a Venezuelan jail.

After pleading guilty, Palmeri-Bacchi was sentenced last month to 6 1/2 years in prison.

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