The family and friends of a former U.S. soldier detained in Venezuela for his role in a failed coup have said he was misled into believing it had the direct backing of President Donald Trump.
A childhood friend claims that Luke Denman, 34, believed the Drugs Enforcement Agency was in on the plot and that they would send in a helicopter to fly Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro back to the United States, according to the Wall Street Journal.
‘He messaged at one point or another, they had gotten the green light from Trump,’ said Daniel Dochen, who told the WSJ that he last spoke to Denman a week or two before the start of the mission in early May.
Denman was arrested on May 4 alongside fellow former Green Beret Airan Berry, 41, and dozens of Venezuelans for the failed attempt to overthrow President Maduro.
President Trump and the U.S. government 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.
‘He messaged at one point or another, they had gotten the green light from Trump:’ Friends say Luke Denman, pictured in an interrogation video with Venezuelan authorities last week, believed that the failed Venezuelan coup had the support of President Donald Trump
Luke Denman (left) and Airan Berry (right) were arrested after a failed attempt to overthrow Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro on May 4. Friends of Denman now claim that the former Green Beret was misled and believed the raid had the backing of the U.S. government
Another friend of Denman’s, Braxton Smith, told the Wall Street Journal that he first spoke to him about the mission last Fall.
Smith, an attorney, alleges that Denman told him the raid was fully sanctioned by the U.S. government.
‘I had asked him one time to shoot me the contract so I could look it over to make sure he wasn’t getting into something crazy,’ he said, but added that he never saw the contract.
Denman was recruited by Canadian-born former U.S. soldier Jordan Goudreau, 43, who has identified himself as the coup ringleader in a video posted to social media as the raid began.
‘I told him, when you’re going somewhere wearing the uniform of a U.S. soldier, there’s a certain amount of responsibility that, in the public light, they have,’ his brother Mark Denman said.
‘When you’re operating under these contracts, God knows.’
Mark said he has since spoken to Goudreau, who did not take part in the raid as his boat broke down in March and he had to return to Florida because of coronavirus travel restrictions, but did not receive any more information on the plan.
‘I don’t know if he has some grand master plan and betrayed his men in order to execute that plan. I don’t know. Maybe he himself is a pawn in this thing,’ he said.
‘Monday morning, I thought my brother was dead, and if he wasn’t dead something horrible would happen shortly thereafter. It looks like that’s not happening, so I’m extremely thankful for that.’
Denman’s family are growing increasingly frustrated that the State Department is not doing more to work toward their release after the Americans were charged with conspiracy and terrorism on May 8.
The family of Luke Denman, pictured, have voiced concern that the State Department is not working for his release as they claim he was misled before taking part in the failed coup
His relatives told the WSJ that they had contacted State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs as well as the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, and the Swiss Embassy in Caracas.
The U.S. has broken diplomatic ties with President Maduro and closed its embassy in Caracas last year. Instead, the U.S. recognizes Maduro’s opposition Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader.
The family added that they are now working with companies who claims to have contacts in the Venezuelan prison who will be able to reach the Americans.
‘They don’t have to [tell us what they’re doing],’ Denmans’s mother Kay said.
‘It would be nice to know that things are being moved down the road here.’
Denman’s friends’ claims come a week after it was revealed that the DEA and the Department of Homeland Security knew about the training camps and had been tipped off earlier this year that Goudreau was allegedly weapons smuggling in Colombia.
Former Green Beret Jordan Goudreau (pictured center) has claimed responsibility for a failed operation to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro in a plan named ‘Operation Gedeón’
A DEA source admitted that an informant tipped the agency off before March but a formal probe wasn’t opened as it did not know who Goudreau was at the time.
The DEA official speaking to the Associated Press said the information was also passed on to the Department of Homeland Security.
The DEA believed that the weapons were destined for leftist rebels or criminal gangs in Colombia, former officials said on the condition of anonymity.
Goudreau, Denman and Berry had served together in Iraq and Afghanistan and Goudreau offered them the job in Venezuela through his Florida-based company Silvercopr USA.
In an edited interrogation 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.
Luke Denman (right) and Airan Berry (left), both former U.S. special forces soldiers, were arrested on May 4 for their part in an attempted coup of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Denman, 34, featured in a video released by Venezuelan state TV last week in which he claimed the Goudreau coup was under the command of President Donald Trump
‘I thought I was helping the Venezuelans take back control of their country,’ he said, adding that he expected to make between $50,000 and $100,000 for the mercenary work.
He was questioned about the leadership of the plot and when asked who commanded Goudreau, he claimed it was President Trump.
Berry and Denman were sentenced in their first court appearance on May 8 and face up to 25 to 30 years in prison.
The former soldiers said they flew to Colombia on January 16 and after training, they accompanied the troops by boat to Venezuelan to oversee the plan and ensure that an airport was secured through which Maduro could be flown to the United States.
The U.S. had established a $15million reward in March for information that led to the arrest or conviction of the socialist leader.
The incursion was quickly shut down by Venezuelan authorities on Sunday and Monday, however, and 31 arrested, as Maduro revealed that Venezuelan intelligence had facilitated the plot in Colombia, and they had been lying in wait for it to launch
Venezuelan authorities say that 50 have not been detained after further searches for more coup members.
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 and claiming that he had provided the coup members with training and equipment.
He claims to have signed a $212million contract with Guadió, a claim the opposition has denied.
Maduro has presented an 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.