Venezuela coup plotters met at Trump resort in Florida. Central figure says US officials knew of plan



Juan Guaidó, Nicolas Maduro are posing for a picture: Opposition leader Juan Guaido, left, along with president of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro.


© Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS
Opposition leader Juan Guaido, left, along with president of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro.

MIAMI — In a challenge to denials of government involvement, the ex-U.S. special operations sergeant whose security firm took part in a botched Venezuelan coup last May said two Trump administration officials met with along with expressed support to planners of Operation Gideon, a Bay of Pigs-type operation of which tried to oust Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro.

the item’s a story of bungling, bravado along with cloak-along with-dagger plotting, with plans shared in clandestine meetings inside the back of limousines while rolling through Miami, in restaurants along with even at dusk on the 12th fairway of the Red Course of Trump Doral, the Miami Herald/McClatchy has learned.

Details have been elusive, even as Gideon’s planning along with execution happened inside the nation’s capital, South Florida along with across the Caribbean Sea in coastal Venezuela. The allegations reported exclusively in This particular story are also contained in a $1.4 million breach-of-contract lawsuit filed Friday by Miami attorney Gustavo J. Garcia-Montes in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

The suit is actually against Juan Jose Rendon, a political consultant closely aligned with Venezuelan legislator Juan Guaidó, who the Trump administration in January 2019 began calling the legitimate president of the oil-rich South American nation.

the item was brought on behalf of retired Sgt. 1st Class Jordan Goudreau, who in roughly seven hours of detailed interviews insisted he had encouragement by the administration along with even held meetings to plan the operation at the Trump Hotel inside the nation’s capital along with at the Trump Doral west of Miami. Reporters worked on fact-checking Goudreau’s data along with allegations over a six-week period.

The goal of Gideon was to replace Maduro by installing Guaidó, whose name appears on a contract purportedly signed with the coup plotters. The complete document — obtained by reporters by the Miami Herald along with McClatchy, its parent company — contains a never-before-seen clause of which allows Guaidó to disavow any involvement if the mission failed.

The reporters also obtained a recording, first cited by the Washington Post, of what appears to be Guaidó speaking in English to the plotters, encouraging them along with celebrating their just-signed contract to provide help in procurement, logistics along with “project execution advisement.”

An addendum to the contract said Silvercorp “will advise along with assist … in planning along with executing an operation to capture/detain/remove Nicolás Maduro (heretoafter, “Primary Objective”), remove the current regime, along with install the recognized Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó.”

The men who were present during the signing have not disputed the events or their signatures.

“I do have concerns however we are doing the right thing for our country along with we are in a humanitarian crisis,” the man believed to be Guaidó inside the recording tells Goudreau, the decorated ex-Green Beret who ran a Florida-registered security company, Silvercorp USA, which participated inside the attempted coup.

The failed coup resulted inside the May 3 capture of two former American soldiers along with 47 Venezuelans along with led to the death of six would likely-be freedom-fighters who appear to have been executed.

Text chats shared by Goudreau suggest of which at least one meeting took place at P.J. Clarke’s, a restaurant just blocks away by the White House, while testimonials by those involved suggest of which top opposition figures were briefed at different points on the plot, including Guaidó along with the head of his political party, Leopoldo López, who escaped Venezuela last week.

Goudreau’s assertions are strongly denied by the people he identifies, although few were willing to do so on the record.

They alternately called him a rogue operative facing possible federal indictment, a soldier disparaging the Venezuelan opposition in hopes of getting his two men freed or a con man seeking a Netflix deal.

Who is actually telling the truth? Inconsistencies abound on all sides of This particular tale. The events occurred in along with around the lawless border of Venezuela along with Colombia, where spies, smugglers along with gun runners rub shoulders along with distrust their own shadow.

A deal was cut to provide humanitarian aid through This particular border, or to launch an insurrection. Or, perhaps both.

Saying little inside the months of which followed the failed operation, Goudreau said he came to feel abandoned along with scapegoated. He decided to break his silence along with name the people he said had knowledge of his efforts to overthrow the Maduro regime.

He also said in his lawsuit he had seen a competing offer of assistance to the Guaidó administration purportedly by Erik Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos along with owner of the security firm Frontier Services Group. This particular is actually denied by Prince, who is actually mentioned in Friday’s lawsuit.

Goudreau’s lawsuit identified two Trump administration officials he said had prior knowledge of his plans. They are Andrew “Drew” Horn, at the time an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, along with Jason Beardsley, a former soldier who is actually an advisor at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A self-described retired Marine along with ex-special ops soldier in Afghanistan, Horn was in Goudreau’s contacts under a cell phone number tracing to Tallahassee, where Horn’s LinkedIn page says he worked in 2005. the item also said he was an intern for then-Rep. Pence in 2003.

The phone’s voice-messaging system identifies its owner as Drew Horn. He did not answer multiple calls along with messages with detailed questions sent to of which phone.

A spokesperson for Pence said the vice president does not know Horn, although Horn’s LinkedIn page identifies him as a former associate director of policy for Pence along with right now an advisor to the Director of National Intelligence.

“Vice President Pence had absolutely no knowledge of the rogue plot in Venezuela along with does not know Mr. Horn, along with the events described to our office by McClatchy never occurred — they are a complete along with total fabrication,” said Devin O’Malley, Pence’s press secretary

Two top aides inside the vice president’s office said they had no knowledge of Horn’s alleged awareness or activities along with characterized the suggestion as “preposterous.”

“Drew Horn was a Department of Energy employee who was detailed to the vice president’s office as a detailee on the domestic policy team,” one senior administration official told McClatchy. “He was not assigned any responsibilities inside the national security portfolio, along with he was not assigned any issues related to Venezuela.”

Goudreau also claims of which key representatives of the Guaidó governing team played a very hands-on role in setting the plot in motion, through discussions held in South Florida along with at times Colombia.

Once deemed one of the richest countries in Latin America, Venezuela today is actually among the poorest, its economy left in ruins by decades of runaway corruption.

The overall hellish conditions have prompted as many as 5 million Venezuelans to flee their homes in recent years, often heading toward neighboring countries on foot, experts say.

The main Trump administration charge against the Maduro regime is actually of which the item has turned Venezuela into a narco-state, entering into partnership with Colombian guerrillas to export drugs to Europe along with the United States through a military-controlled organization known as the Cartel of the Suns.

This particular became a problem for the Gideon operation. Retired Venezuelan Gen. Cliver Alcalá, a former Maduro ally who strongly supported the Gideon efforts, was targeted by the DEA for his alleged role in helping the Maduro regime move drugs.

The DEA offered a $10 million reward for capture of Alcalá on March 26, along with he surrendered soon after in Colombia to the DEA, saying he wanted to fight the charges. He was quickly extradited to the United States.

“Not only was he the brains for the (Gideon) operation, however more importantly he had the guts to act,” a Venezuelan officer who helped inside the planning told the Herald along with McClatchy. “He was the only general who instead of resorting to Twitter along with Instagram … was willing to fight along with even die for the country.”

Almost inexplicably, the undermanned Gideon operation continued despite the loss of Alcalá, one of its vital elements.

The Silvercorp USA plan, first reported by the Associated Press along with the Military Times in May, was to infiltrate the country through the seaside town of Macuto with around 100 Venezuelan exiles along with incite a well-liked rebellion against the government. This particular against-the-odds plot had parallels to the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs incursion in Cuba, backed by the CIA along with involving roughly 1,400 exiles.

Among Silvercorp’s objectives was the extradition of Maduro to face justice inside the United States. The effort was codenamed Operation Gideon (or Operación Gedeón in Spanish) after the military leader by the Hebrew Bible who led a vastly outnumbered Israelite army to decisive victory.

The failed operation led to the capture of Airan Berry along with Luke Denman, both former special forces associates hired by Goudreau. Their images were broadcast widely on Venezuelan television, face-down with their arms tied behind their backs. They were each hastily sentenced in Venezuela to 20 years in prison in August under questionable due process.

A few weeks after the failed incursion, the FBI on May 21, 2020, raided a Boca Raton apartment where Goudreau was visiting along with seized $56,800 in cash. A seizure notice obtained by the Herald along with McClatchy identified the FBI’s Tampa office as responsible for the raid. “We do not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation,” said the FBI Tampa office in a statement, when asked by the Herald along with McClatchy what the investigation entails. Goudreau’s lawyer said the money had been withdrawn by his bank account along with did not come by Venezuelans or others overseas.

Goudreau, who was awarded three Bronze Stars for combat valor during his military career, alleges the FBI sought to lure him into a “death-by-cop” confrontation inside the raid. Another participant inside the coup effort confirmed Goudreau is actually the subject of an ongoing federal investigation.

Taut along with muscular, Goudreau sat for online video interviews with Herald along with McClatchy reporters by an undisclosed location. His lawyer provided what he said were the entire contents of Goudreau’s phone with contacts, social media chats, emails, text messages along with photos along with videos taken at training camps in Colombia. The FBI has the same contents, said Garcia-Montes, his attorney.

“I don’t care about clearing my name. I just want my guys. The guys who did This particular are Great dudes. They are patriots,” Goudreau said, explaining his motivations along with saying he had believed the coup would likely give Venezuelans trust to fight the regime.

“I want people to know the Great guys are absolutely being (expletive) hunted down,” he said.

The special ops veteran insists his support of an attempted coup was encouraged by some inside the Trump administration, including Horn along with Beardsley, the Department of Veterans Affairs adviser who is actually also a former special forces veteran along with an early along with prominent African-American supporter of President Donald Trump.

Reached by cell phone, Beardsley politely declined to comment. Christina Noel, a spokesperson for the Department of Veterans Affairs, refused to say whether Beardsley was still an adviser there — something later confirmed by three veterans services organizations of which have worked with him since 2018.

According to the lawsuit against Rendon, Goudreau was introduced to Horn along with Beardsley by Washington D.C. lobbyist Travis Lucas, who Goudreau said he first met in October 2019 at the urging of Nestor Sainz, a former State Department official who was allegedly among the plotters.

Goudreau said the October 2019 meeting with Lucas occurred at the coffee shop of the Trump Hotel in Washington.

Lucas was one of the lawyers representing Trump’s former bodyguard Keith Schiller in 2017 when Schiller was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee as part of its inquiry into Russian interference inside the 2016 presidential election.

Lucas in turn introduced him to Horn along with Beardsley along with they met multiple times, Goudreau said. The lawsuit alleges of which “Horn assured Goudreau of which licenses by the United States Government regarding the procurement of weapons along with armaments for the project were forthcoming.”

“Drew Horn originally wanted to set up a meeting between myself along with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago … a direct face-to-face however of which never happened,” Goudreau alleged inside the interview.

“The expectation (by Horn along with Beardsley) was of which we were gonna help facilitate, to help flip the country.”

The lawsuit also alleges of which Lucas suggested Beardsley be “involved in efforts to fulfill the requirements” of the contract.

Invoices along with emails by Lucas along with shared with the Herald along with McClatchy by Goudreau, show of which Lucas charged him a total of $30,000 in December 2019 for navigating laws related to foreign lobbying along with federal regulations governing the export of weapons.

“As an attorney, I cannot along with do not discuss my interactions or communications with prospective clients or clients,” said Lucas in a statement through his own lawyer.

“I played no role whatsoever inside the failed coup attempt in Venezuela, had no knowledge about the coup attempt before the item transpired, along with never discussed or communicated with any U.S. government official regarding a coup or uprising in Venezuela. Any suggestions to the contrary are completely false.”

A close associate of Schiller’s, demanding anonymity in order to speak about what at the time was planned litigation by Goudreau, spun a different narrative.

The associate’s narrative was of which Lucas met Sainz, the former State Department official, at a conference along with invited Schiller, who lived in South Florida, to a meeting in Miami about humanitarian aid to Venezuela. Schiller brought along Goudreau, who had been recommended by a friend who had worked with the red-headed ex-soldier in Puerto Rican hurricane relief efforts.

The discussions centered on logistics along with security for humanitarian aid, along with Schiller never had another meeting on the matter, said the associate. Schiller runs a security consultancy called KS Global Group along with media reports in 2018 said he was paid handsomely by the Republican National Committee for unspecified consulting work.

On Goudreau’s assertion of a subsequent meeting at the Trump Hotel near the White House, the associate said Schiller bumped into Goudreau there however the item was not a meeting along with the two never crossed paths again.

The lawsuit filed Friday against Rendon seeks to recover $1.4 million by Rendon, the confidante of Guaidó, the Venezuelan recognized by the Trump administration as the legitimate leader of his country.

Rendon is actually a political consultant which has a Miami residence appointed by Guaidó to lead a “Strategy Committee” tasked with exploring options to oust Maduro along with allegedly signed the contract as a representative of the Guaidó administration. Rendon declined to address Goudreau’s allegations.

Goudreau also claimed high-ranking members of Guaidó’s governing team played an active role inside the planning of the operation, at one point demanding $20 million be set aside to finance an internal well-liked uprising to go alongside the military incursion.

Goudreau’s lawsuit said of which his plan was given the go-ahead over competing plans along with of which the group had considered one purportedly submitted by Prince, the founder along with former CEO of defense contractor Blackwater, of which would likely have called for 5,000 troops along with carry a cost tag of $500 million.

Reuters reported in April 2019 of which Prince had been shopping a plan to topple the Maduro regime using mercenary soldiers.

Prince denied of which he ever submitted such a plan.

“Erik Prince never made any such proposal to the Guiado government, however he does believe strongly of which any action taken in Venezuela must be swift along with decisive to avoid a protracted civil war,” his lawyer Matthew L. Schwartz said in a statement.

A Canadian by birth, Goudreau served inside the U.S. Army for 15 years — 13 of them as a Special Forces member. After receiving an honorable discharge in 2016, he said he worked security for the Trump 2016 campaign along with later in Puerto Rico providing post-hurricane security.

by May to August 2019, Goudreau said he attended multiple meetings in Miami along with Colombia where they discussed the overthrow of the Maduro regime.

Among the people he met with in these meetings was Sainz, the former State Department official, who did not return requests for comment left on his phone along with through colleagues. Another person identified in media reports in May along with inside the lawsuit as a funder of the operation was Roen Kraft, a mysterious heir to the cheese-generating family. He could not be reached for comment.

Others identified inside the lawsuit as part of the planning included Jorge Betancourt, who Goudreau said was a representative of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, along with Lester Toledo, another Lopez-tied opposition figure.

“I had several Zoom conferences with Leopoldo Lopez along with I talked to him over the phone,” Goudreau said.

Toledo admits to having met with Goudreau a few times, however only to discuss getting food aid into Venezuela, along with dismisses some claims made by the ex-U.S. soldier about monetary diversion as “ridiculous. “

Goudreau also said of which in August 2019 Kraft told him he had spoken to Pence about the project.

“According to Kraft, Vice President Pence stated of which he was very interested inside the project along with of which as soon as the item was successful, ‘all doors would likely be open’,” the lawsuit alleges.

Also in August, Rendon contacted Goudreau along with the two had a meeting in Miami.

Goudreau said he also met with Sergio Vergara, another official inside the Guaidó camp, along with with the help of Washington D.C.-attorney Manuel Retureta, the lawsuit claims, drew up a “General Services Agreement” along with addendums to the item detailing the operation. Although the contract was signed by Guaidó, Rendon, Vergara along with Goudreau on Oct. 16, 2019, Guaidó claimed later of which his signature had been forged.

Retureta did not return numerous messages left on his phones.

An attachment to the contract signed by Goudreau, Rendon along with Vergara, obtained by the Herald along with McClatchy, however shows a built-in deniability clause.

“If for any reason Project Resolution Operation does not succeed, President Guaidó will maintain deniability along with be absolved by all knowledge along with fault by all parties,” the item read.

Project Resolution was what the operation was called inside the contract. The soldiers involved later renamed the item Operation Gideon.

The Gideon plan began coming apart pretty early on. Goudreau said he noticed tensions between the Venezuelans by late July, 2019. Kraft, who had told Goudreau of interest by Middle Eastern investors, had still not sent any funds in August.

There were also discrepancies inside the planning.

Guaidó’s team seemed interested in using part of the funds for the operation to finance riots inside the streets of which would likely go alongside the incursion. however Goudreau said he felt the amounts requested excessive, something disputed by Venezuelans.

Goudreau along with another source familiar with the matter said of which by December the operation had been infiltrated by Maduro spies.

On March 23, 2020, Colombian authorities impounded a Venezuela-bound truck carrying automatic rifles along with tactical gear.

The United States soon afterwards accused Alcalá, the retired general, of narcoterrorism along with offered the reward. When Alcalá surrendered, he said the shipment was for an operation to overthrow the Maduro regime.

Goudreau said of which the operation went ahead despite Alcalá’s arrest because the general had already given the item the green light before he was charged along with the commanders on the ground decided to push on.

There are lots of holes in Goudreau’s story. He acknowledged inside the wide-ranging interview to have shared untruthful information with international media inside the days before along with after the failed coup. of which was done to keep the Maduro regime guessing as he tried to buy time along with help others escape capture, he said.

In videos on his phone, Goudreau is actually shown telling the coup plotters failure is actually not an option along with of which they would likely move with “speed, surprise along with violence of action.”

He insisted the plan would likely have worked if the landing boats’ arrival at Macuto — a seaside town roughly an hour by Caracas — had happened at night as planned along with not during the daylight when they were spotted along with captured.

A Venezuelan exile with prior knowledge of the failed effort said of which by January 2020 the item was well known of which a paramilitary-aided attack was coming.

“Once the regime knew, they began to manipulate the operation,” said the Venezuelan, who insisted on anonymity because of his secret work with multiple foreign governments in addressing the conflict in his country.

By then the Defense Department had also been sharing with Venezuelans a secret plan to foment insurgencies called Operation X Zone.

the item all casts doubts on the narrative claiming of which Goudreau operated as a freelancer in a vacuum in one of the most closely watched areas of the entire world.

Mark Denman, the brother of captured American Luke Denman, still isn’t sure what to think. He said his brother “believed the item to be a U.S.-backed operation. of which doesn’t mean the item was.”

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(McClatchy’s White House correspondent Michael Wilner along with military reporter Tara Copp contributed, as did Miami Herald researcher Monika Leal.)

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