Back home in Bolivia, Col. Mario Fabricio Ormachea Aliaga's gig at the Bolivia National Police was to root out corruption -- supposedly. In an irony that makes perfect sense in the Caribbean, Ormachea has been sitting in U.S. federal custody since September on charges he tried to extort money from a Bolivian expat living in South Florida, as we originally reported last fall. Yesterday, a Fort Lauderdale jury returned a guilty verdict in the colonel's trial.
Former Bolivian airline mogul -- and enemy of the country's president Evo Morales -- Humberto Roca was the target of Ormachea's plot.
The businessman had fled his homeland in 2010, after his airline was squeezed out of the market by state-owned competition and the ruling administration came after him with corruption charges. Seeking solace in the U.S., Roca had been living in Miami Lakes until Ormachea knocked on his door.
According to prosecutors, the colonel arrived in South Florida last August and contacted Roca with a simple deal: Pay me $5,000 and I'll make those corruption charges go away. Instead of play ball, Roca went to the FBI. Law enforcement wired the former mogul's home and caught Ormachea on tape trying to make the deal.
At trial, the Miami Herald reports Ormachea's lawyer tried to convince the jury that the Bolivian official was only trying to secure information about corruption going on back home. Lawyers also claimed the extortion didn't technically really actually happen in the U.S., because Roca was buying Ormachea's influence back in Bolivia.
Neither explanation worked on the jury. In just over an hour, it came back with two guilty verdicts on two charges of extortion.
When the official was first charged last fall, Gen. Juan Roberto Albarracin, the top man in the Bolivian National Police, issued a statement claiming that Ormachea's activity was unsanctioned by his superiors. But this wasn't the first time the officer has been linked to shady business, according to the Latin American blogosphere.
Ormachea could face up to 25 years in federal prison. He'll be sentence on May 25.
Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.
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