Statesman: A U.S. military veteran who was arrested Monday in what Venezuela officials have described as a failed plot to capture President Nicolás Maduro is an Austin native whose family members say they were stunned to see reports of his apprehension and are praying for his safe return.
Venezuelan officials say Luke Denman, 34, was apprehended at gunpoint on a beach near the port city of La Guaira, where eight others allegedly involved in the plot were killed by local security forces. Denman remained in custody Wednesday as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed to “use every tool” to secure his release along with a second U.S. military veteran who also was arrested, Airan Berry.
Although the U.S. is among dozens of countries wanting Maduro ousted, Pompeo and President Donald Trump have insisted Washington was not involved in the incursion and had no prior knowledge of it. The U.S. government recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader and in late March indicted Maduro on drug trafficking charges related to alleged shipments of cocaine to the United States. Federal officials announced a reward of up to $15 million for information related to his arrest.
On Wednesday, Denman’s father, Frank, answered the door at his West Austin home and declined to discuss his son’s arrest. He instead directed the American-Statesman to a statement attributed to the Denman family that was provided by another son.
Denman, the statement reads, left the military in 2014 to focus on family life and since that time has worked in a number of civilian jobs. Most recently, he was in Florida working as a deep sea diver.
“The first indication we had of anything different is the images coming out of Venezuela,” the family says in the statement. “I cannot say enough positive things about Luke’s character and cannot imagine him involved in any nefarious activities. Our only concern at this time is getting Luke home safely.”
Maduro held up what appeared to be their U.S. passports and read off their names and birth dates. He showed images of fishing boats the pair allegedly rode in on and tactical equipment that he said they were carrying, like walkie-talkies. In one of the photos, Denman appears to be lying on his stomach with his head resting on a pair of shoes and his arms tied behind his back.
Six Venezuelan citizens were arrested alongside the Americans, Venezuelan officials said.
Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab said authorities have arrested 114 people suspected in the attack and are searching for 92 others.
According to ABC News, Denman and Berry are associated with Silvercorp USA, a private firm founded by Jordan Goudreau, an ex-Green Beret based in Florida who claimed responsibility for the incursion. Denman served in Iraq with Goudreau, according to comments the Canadian-born Goudreau made to The Associated Press.
Venezuelan military deserters were being readied for combat at three camps in Colombia with the help of Goudreau and Silvercorp USA, multiple opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and aspiring freedom fighters told the AP.
In the video released Wednesday, Denman says he arrived to Venezuela to train rebel troops and that Trump was behind Silvercorp’s incursion. However, experts say the testimony should be taken with a grain of salt because Venezuelan authorities have a record of forcing statements.
Goudreau said he launched the attack after reaching an agreement with Guaidó to overthrow Maduro. Guaidó has denied having anything to do with it.
Goudreau said Guaidó never fulfilled his side of the agreement, but the attack went forward anyway in an underfunded operation with just 60 fighters. The plan to overthrow Maduro was detailed days before the attack by the AP, which relied on interviews with Goudreau associates to portray the ex-Green Beret as a “freedom-loving patriot, a mercenary and a gifted warrior scarred by battle and in way over his head.”
After Denman and Berry’s capture, Goudreau told AP he had reached out to people who he thinks can help bring them home, but “nobody’s returning my calls.”
Well that’s fucking crazy. Just an absolute unreal story that no doubt will one day be a Netflix special.
But right now, damn do I feel bad for Luke. Because honestly, it really does seem like he had no idea the US wasn’t behind the capture. Just a war junkie looking to do private contracted military work that no person without a death wish wants to do. Good for him too. The dude is a Green Beret and served in Iraq. He can do what he pleases.
But with that said, I understand the crowd who says he probably should’ve seen the signs. Been smarter. I know there could be a million ways I get accused of a crime I never committed, but zero chance one of those accusations will be I was hired to kill the Venezuelan President. That’s definitely a job that would cause me to raise an eyebrow. And also one that not a fucking chance I’d ever do. Too extreme and too illegal sounding of a request.
Either way, an all around wild story. Add Luke to this list of Notable Westlake alum behind:
-Drew Brees (Super Bowl Champ and MVP/Saints QB1)
-Nick Foles (Super Bowl Champ and MVP/Bears QB)
-Justin Tucker (Super Bowl Champ/ Ravens K1)
-Ross Ulbricht (California State Prison/ Silk Road Founder)