A Venezuelan court sentenced two Americans, arrested after helping execute a failed coup on Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, to prison on Friday. Former U.S. Green Berets Luke Denman and Airan Berry each received 20 years for conspiracy, trafficking in illegal arms and terrorism.
Chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab announced the ruling on Twitter:
"NOW lists the 1st preliminary hearing CASE GEDEÓN (Silvercorp mercenaries) the citizens Luke Denman and Airan Berry were accused by Prosecutors of the cause for serious #crimes.”
“They admitted their responsibility for the facts,” he said in all-caps.
“... said gentlemen ADMITTED to have committed crimes of conspiracy, association, illicit trafficking of weapons of war and terrorism typified in the Penal Code: for which they were sentenced to imprisonment for 20 years, months and 9 days...”
2) ... dichos señores ADMITIERON haber cometido delitos d conspiración, asociación, tráfico ilícito d armas d guerra y terrorismo tipificados en el Código Penal: por lo q fueron condenados a la pena d prisión d 20 años, meses y 9 dias ...la #AUDIENCIA sigue con demás #imputados— Tarek William Saab (@TarekWiliamSaab) August 8, 2020
In May, Denman and Berry plotted under fellow former Marine Jordan Goudreu, owner of a security firm called Silvercorp USA, to train a Venezuelan rebel squadron and capture Maduro. Goudreu called the plan “Operation Gideon.”
But Goudreu was not present when Denman and Berry, with 66 Venezuelan fighters, encountered the Venezuelan Navy while adrift in an under-fueled boat along the country’s coastline. They docked in the port city of La Guaria on May 4, where they clashed with government armed forces, who had known about the attack and had far greater troops and resources to subdue it. Venezuelan forces killed 8 insurgents and detained 66 others that day. Denman and Berry were arrested the next day, along with more than 100 other suspects.
Goudreu says opposition leader Juan Guaidó had promised to back Operation Gideon but reneged on his commitment. Both Guaidó and President Donald Trump denied any involvement in the attack.
Denman and Berry’s lawyers say that Venezuelan authorities blocked them from jailhouse proceedings, according to Fox News. Alonso Medina Roa has not been able to meet with his defendants, he says, and Judge Máximo Marquez failed to notify him of the conviction hearing. A public attorney argued for Denman and Berry instead.
Denman’s brother, Mark Denman, confirmed that Roa did not represent the accused, saying he was “very disappointed.”
“With the trial behind us, we are now focused on assuring that during their detainment their rights are adhered to. This includes humane treatment, access to adequate medical care, communication with their families and attorneys,” he said.
Private diplomat and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson unsuccessfully negotiated for their release in July while on a mission endorsed by the U.S. government. “We will continue our dialogue with the Venezuelans to try to find a way to bring them back home to their families,” he said in a statement on Saturday.
“I am glad we were able to meet with President Maduro to discuss the potential release of the American prisoners and other COVID-19 humanitarian issues," Richardson said back in July. “We regret that we were not able to secure the release of the Americans. Our thoughts are with the families of … former Green Berets Luke Denman and Airan Berry.”
Richardson also lobbied for the release of six CITGO executives, five of whom have dual U.S.-Venezuelan citizenship, who face corruption charges. Their trial began on August 6.