US mercenaries sentenced in Venezuela to 20 years for failed coup

Two Green Berets who were behind botched coup to overthrow Venezuelan leader Nicholas Maduro in operation dubbed the ‘Bay of Piglets’ are given 20 years in prison

  • Former Green Berets Luke Denman and Airan Berry were sentenced on Friday
  • Tarek Saab, Venezuela’s attorney general, announced the 20 year sentence
  • Saab said the two Americans had admitted their role in the failed May coup 
  • The pair were arrested on May 4  and charged with terrorism and conspiracy

Two former Green Berets have been sentenced to 20 years in prison by a court in Venezuela for their role in a failed coup attempt against President Nicolas Maduro. 

Luke Denman, 34, and Airan Berry, 41, were arrested on May 4 and charged with terrorism and conspiracy following an uprising nicknamed ‘Bay of Piglets’ – a reference to the failed coup against Fidel Castro in 1961.

On Friday night the Venezuelan attorney general, Tarek William Saab, announced that the pair had been sentenced, following a ‘trial’ in which they were reportedly not permitted to see their attorneys.

‘Following on from their arraignment, they have admitted their responsibility for the acts,’ Saab tweeted.

‘The men ADMITTED having committed crimes of conspiracy, illegal association, trafficking of weapons of war and terrorism as defined by the Penal Code: for this they have been sentenced to 20 years, months and nine days in prison.’

Saab appeared to have omitted the number of months to which they were sentenced.  

‘The hearing continues with the remaining accused,’ he concluded.   

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Luke Denman, circled right, and Airan Berry, circled top left, were arrested on May 4

Denman, 34, (left) and Berry, 41, (right) have been sentenced to 20 years in prison

Tarek William Saab, attorney general, announced Friday that the pair had been sentenced

Saab, Venezuela’s attorney general, tweeted that the pair had admitted their role in the coup

He said that the two have been condemned to ’20 years, months and 9 days’ in prison

Two captains in the Venezuelan National Guard, Antonio José Sequea and Víctor Pimienta, were among the Venezuelans arrested in the foiled raid. 

They had participated in a previous uprising against Maduro and are believed to have been among those leading the Venezuelans in the coup.  

The former governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, flew to Venezuela last month to urge Maduro to free several jailed Americans as a goodwill gesture aimed at easing tensions with the U.S.

The Richardson Center, which seeks freedom for Americans held by hostile foreign governments and criminal organizations, would not confirm who he was lobbying for.

Denman and Berry were likely on the list, along with six oil executives from Citgo — five Venezuelan-Americans and one a permanent U.S. resident — who were lured to Caracas for a meeting in late 2017 at the offices of the Houston-based company’s parent, state-run oil giant PDVSA, when masked security agents swarmed a boardroom and hauled them away. 

Richardson also worked behind the scenes to bring home another American jailed in Caracas, former Mormon missionary Joshua Holt, who won his freedom in 2018. 

Luke Denman (right) and Airan Berry (left), were arrested on May 4 for their part in the plot

The plan was to capture Maduro (pictured), secure an airport and then fly the Venezuelan leader to the United States 

Denman and Berry were arrested on May 4 alongside the dozens of Venezuelans after Maduro intercepted the plot.

Authorities were said to be lying in wait for the mercenaries after showing ringleader Jordan Goudreau’s face on state TV and naming the Americans a month before the plot even began. 

The former soldiers said they flew to Colombia on January 16 and, after training, they accompanied the troops by boat to Venezuela.

The plan was to capture Maduro, secure an airport and then fly the Venezuelan leader to the United States.

Goudreau, Denman and Berry had served together in Iraq and Afghanistan and Goudreau offered them the job in Venezuela through his Florida-based company Silvercorp USA. 

Denman (left) said ‘jackpot’ was the code name for President Nicolás Maduro among plotters

Luke Denman (left) and Airan Berry (right) are pictured here during their arrest on May 4

The U.S. recognizes Maduro’s rival Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.

In March, the U.S. announced a $15 million reward for information that let to Maduro’s arrest or conviction.  

Goudreau is currently under federal investigation in the U.S. for arms smuggling after identifying himself as the person behind the plot, in a video posted to social media, claiming that he had provided the coup members with training and equipment.

Former Green Beret Jordan Goudreau (center) has claimed responsibility for the failed coup

He claims to have signed a $212 million contract with Guaidó, which the opposition leader has denied.

Maduro has presented the alleged signed contract during press conferences as proof that Guaidó was involved in the plot to overthrow him.

On May 8, Venezuela requested the extradition of Goudreau and two U.S.-based Venezuelans for their roles in the failed incursion. 

In a previous video broadcast on Venezuelan state TV on May 7, Denman claimed he was first approached about the job by Goudreau in early December but was given limited details about what was involved.

In the interrogation video, Denman also stated that he had taken the job offer from Goudreau because he believed it was working to free the Venezuelan people from Maduro.

He was questioned about the leadership of the plot and, when asked who commanded Goudreau, he claimed it was Donald Trump.

President Trump and the U.S. government have denied any ‘direct’ involvement in the botched raid and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that ‘every tool’ will be used to secure the release of the Americans involved.

The U.S. broke diplomatic ties with Maduro and closed its embassy in Caracas last year.

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