The murder of two young entrepreneurs committed in Caracas last May transcended the police report sections and gained an international echo inasmuch as one of the victims was related to a 'celebrity' in the fashion industry, Carolina Herrera, the Venezuelan designer with the most global recognition. But the plot, also international, ended up highlighting the violent interlacings of the dispute over the control of the furtive foreign exchange business that operates between Florida and Venezuela
On May 11, at five o'clock in the afternoon, almost at the same time that the families of Fabrizio Alberto Mendoza Isea and Reinaldo José Herrera Sánchez informed the police of the apparent kidnapping of the businessmen in La Boyera - a wealthy class suburb in the municipality of El Hatillo, on the hills of southeast Caracas-, the CICPC (crime scene investigators) received the report of the finding of two corpses in El Topo, a sector located on the old road that connects the Venezuelan capital with La Guaira, the port that serves the city. They were the bodies of two male people, handcuffed inside a Toyota Hilux armored truck. Both of them were shot in the head.
As soon as they received the report of the alleged plagiarism and heard, almost simultaneously, the report of the double murder, officials of the Anti-Extortion and Abduction Division of CICPC realized that they were not in fact dealing with a kidnap investigation. They began to work on other hypotheses and in a month they managed to clarify that what they were facing was a contract killing.
The murder of both men, partners in an architecture firm, received huge attention in national and international press. One of the victims of the murder-kidnapping, Reinaldo Herrera, was family of the famous Venezuelan fashion designer Carolina Herrera. But, despite the popularity of Herrera, the investigators were clear from the beginning that the real target of the attack was Fabrizio Mendoza.
An anonymous report that circulated on Twitter on the day of the crime already alerted the investigators about his alleged connection with Miami-based Venezuelan businessman Salvador Lairet, a former partner and friend of Mendoza. The same rumor also spread immediately among the acquaintances of both entrepreneurs.
Not always -hardly ever, in fact- the first hypothesis is the most accurate. But in order to corroborate this case, the key was the arrest of Franco Jose Tessarolo Salcedo, 34, who was one of the best friends of Mendoza Isea, very close to his family, and also to that of Reinaldo Herrera. He assisted them in the repair and maintenance of vehicles in a mechanic workshop that he had in the so-called Altos Mirandinos, a series of settlements that make up a middle-class commuter town on the outskirts of Caracas, in the state of Miranda. Because of this closeness, no one thought it strange to find Tessarolo at Mendoza's funeral, held in the East Cemetery of La Guairita, and even see him flank the coffin.
Tessarolo was also a friend of Salvador Lairet, with whom he maintained permanent contact. They all belonged to the same circle of young entrepreneurs and merchants. But there was an additional bond that was unadverted by many until that moment: Lairet, who according to police versions, would have delegated Mendoza's murder to Tessarolo.
Ultimately Franco Tessarolo would have revealed to the investigators that Lairet made a phone call to task him with the planning of Mendoza Isea's murder and offered to pay 15,000 dollars for the job. Tessarolo got going immediately and made contact with his friend Suhe González Álvarez, 35 years old, an informal merchant from Los Teques, capital city of the state of Miranda, 30 minutes from Caracas and even closer to Los Altos. He provided him with 10,000 dollars for him to find the people he needed to get the criminal job done.
González Álvarez, in turn, contacted a trusted man: Edwin Jesus Montilla, 34, and told him that he needed to arrange a group for the task. Montilla hired two more men who would handle the execution of the crime: a criminal who was arrested for kidnapping in 2015 and another one who allegedly had escaped from prison. The planning of the murder took them one month.
On May 11th, when they considered that they had accurately studied Mendoza Isea's movements, they took action. It was easy to locate him. Tessarolo provided information on where to find him. Shortly after noon, the two hitmen, along with Edwin Jesus Montilla, intercepted Mendoza in the parking lot of the Service Center Plaza La Boyera, in the municipality of El Hatillo.
Mendoza, who was the target, was subdued. But the task force had to improvise. The target was in company of Reinaldo Herrera. Surprised by this, the criminals decided to also take him in order to leave no witnesses. They were forced to board the Hilux SUV property of Mendoza, where they got away from the place.
One of the criminals took the driver's seat, while the other threatened the victims with a gun. Behind the vehicle, Montilla followed them on a motorcycle. His job was practically just to supervise: to make sure that the two hitmen carried out the job they were hired for.
As they traveled from La Boyera to La Trinidad, in the municipality of Baruta, on the way to Caracas west-center, the criminals driving the SUV decided to take a detour to Mendoza's home in the Escampadero residential complex in La Tahona, a mid-class residential estate. If it had been only a distracting action, they would have been successful: that stopover was what led the families of the victims to believe that it was a kidnapping. But the truth is that they sought to get more money to round their fees, because González Álvarez, the contractor of the job, ended up handing out just 7,000 of the $10,000 promised to them, and Tessarolo had already kept 5,000 of the $15,000 offered at the beginning of the commission.
While entering the complex, they managed to pass two security checkpoints but the security cameras recorded them. The faces of Edwin Jesús Montilla and the executioners were caught in camera. One of the guards deemed suspicious the presence of a motorcycle behind the vehicle. He knew Mendoza had no escorts. He approached the parking lot to ask Mendoza if everything was fine. "He told the watchman that those people were with him and that there was no problem. After that he called the maid who was cleaning in his apartment to get him some very expensive wrist watches, some dollars and around 200 euros that were next to his passport", witnesses said. The value of the booty tripled the amount that the three men received for murdering Mendoza and Herrera.
When they left the place, they headed without any more detours to the Caracas-La Guaira old road, specifically to the El Topo sector, a zone where in recent months at least three corpses of victims of revenge and alleged kidnappings have been located. There the criminals killed the two businessmen, whose bodies were left inside the vehicle of Mendoza, and fled.
On June 20th, Commissioner Einar Giuliani, security director of the municipality of El Hatillo, reported that Edwin Jesús Montilla, Suhe González Álvarez and Franco José Tessarolo, had been arrested in Los Teques and El Hatillo in the first days of June by officials of the Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Division of CICPC. They confessed their participation in the murder of Mendoza and Herrera and were charged for aggravated kidnapping, vehicle theft, murder by hire and criminal association, says a bulletin from the Public Ministry.
Two of them were sent to El Rodeo II - a prison near Guatire, in the state of Miranda, east of Caracas -, while Tessarolo remained in the cells of the Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Division of CICPC. The two perpetrators of the crime along with the presumed intellectual author, who is in the United States, are still to be captured, said Giuliani.
Fabrizio Alberto Mendoza Isea was 31 years old, single and although he was not known to have a formal couple, he was eventually seen in the company of beautiful women. He moved deftly in the business world and traveled to Miami, where he had acquired various properties, imported luxury vehicles, and was buying and selling dollars.
It wasn’t always like this. Just five years ago, he was trying to find his niche in the labour world and attended interviews with a major transnational corporation of mass consumption. The fact that he was rejected in that opportunity did not mean a frustration or a failure to Mendoza. On the contrary: it seems to have served as a gateway to a new dimension of possibilities. Almost immediately, the young man began to gain a striking economic prosperity. "I was surprised to see him having cars, apartments and traveling all the time", reported a person that knew him before his boom period.
Mendoza came from a family of scholars from the state of Trujillo, in the southwestern Andes of Venezuela. His grandmother, Lourdes Dubuc de Isea, was the official chronicler of Boconó, a city famous in the area for its cultural activity, and was a recognized teacher of the region. However, the family had no wealth of fortune.
In Caracas, Mendoza lived in an apartment he had bought less than two years ago in one of the buildings of the estate Escampadero, in La Tahona. Although the house was registered in his mother's name, María Magdalena Isea, it was the place where the young man used to stay when he was in Venezuela.
He once had a conflict with his neighbors. Mendoza could not find a better place to store a flotilla of 12 white Nissan vans that he had gotten from abroad, than the common areas of the building. He justified himself by saying that he had had problems with the transfer of the vehicles to the institution that had commissioned them and that soon he would solve the inconvenience.
He also offered his neighbors to get luxury vehicles, latest model, in less than a week. "I wanted to buy a car for my wife, I asked him and he said: 'Tell me which car do you want? I'll get you the car you want for tomorrow", said one of the residents of the estate, who thought it strange that someone offered to get cars from one day to another, in a country where even the daily act of buying bread requires hours of waiting in a line.
But these details did not affect his image of a quiet man who barely let himself be seen during his sojourn in the place. The day after the murder, Maria Magdalena Isea, mother of Mendoza, went to the apartment, which is in her name, with a blacksmith and changed the door lock.
Mendoza Isea owned several apartments in the Epic Condo Residences in Miami, located on the US1 or Biscayne Boulevard. Two of these homes - valued between $ 400,000 and $ 3 million - are registered in the name of the companies Aiko 3809, LLC and Aiko 3810, LLC, which were opened by the entrepreneur in Miami.
In addition, Fabrizio Mendoza appears as president of the company Inversiones Hollister S.A., registered in Panama in 2007, along with Erick Eduardo Montaño Suárez, who appears as director. The company is still active according to the Public Registry of Panama.
Montaño Suárez also appears as a partner of Salvador Lairet in the company Dekomundo Corp, created in Florida in 2011. This organization remains inactive according to the Florida Public Register.
In Venezuela, Mendoza was a partner in the architecture firm Akua Proyectos, CA, owned by Reinaldo Herrera, a 34-year-old married and two-child architect who was dedicated to remodelling luxury houses.
Salvador Antonio Lairet Sotillo is a young Venezuelan entrepreneur who is dedicated to multiple activities, according to some blogs, advertisings and information he himself has published. He graduated as an economist at the Metropolitan University - a private college located on the outskirts of Caracas. He is a television producer, investor consultant, real estate consultant and importer, among other things, but his main occupation - judging by his publications in social networks - is to enjoy the life of the rich and famous. Literally.
Photographs of Lairet in Miami nightclubs abound, as well as brief social reviews posted in his own blog. In these festive images he appears next to celebrities like the socialité Paris Hilton, the dj David Guetta, the professional basketball star Kobe Bryant, the world boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, and the rapper Puff Daddy, among others.
"When you are a billionaire or a super celebrity or the best electronic music DJ in the world and you are in Miami, you not only need a good host, you need the best, even better if this person is your friend. Because in order to know what a famous wants, you must be at the same level and know their likes, and you must be as eccentric as them and Salvador Lairet knows about that, not for nothing is one of the most coveted Latinos of Miami nights, if you get to have the opportunity to enter a club like Mynt... if you're lucky you could see Salvador Lairet in the same table of David Guetta or Quintino, or perhaps with Kobe Bryant or Floyd Mayweather, or maybe if you listen to Dj Irie with whom he maintains a close friendship, the truth is that you will always see it accompanied by some celebrity, and the thing is thatSalvador Lairetis not only a friend, he is also a celebrity, not for nothing is considered one of the most coveted Latino bachelors in Miami", says a post on his own blog on January 22, 2015.
Given his performance in this area, he is known in South Florida as "the Venezuelan latin lover", "the Latin Host of Miami" and "the king of the night", or at least that's what the publications of his personal site claim. In 2015 he ventured into the world of real estate and also engaged in television production.
"The Venezuelan businessman Salvador Lairet has been a television producer for five years in the United States and is currently the executive producer of the famous program Latin Angels. The TV series allows people to enjoy the most breathtaking landscapes and at the same time admire its beautiful presenters, and now it will broadcast worldwide", explains a note published in his blog.
There are seven companies registered in the name of Lairet, only in the state of Florida, most of them created between 2014 and 2016: Kramer Accessories CA, INC; Xtreme Mats, LLC; Coaster Boat, LLC; Kreamer América, INC; Kramer Accessories Corporation (inactive); Dekomundo Corp (inactive) and Venture Projects Holdings LLC. In addition to this, he has several real estate properties, some in the name of his mother and a Sunseeker Predator 80yacht purchased in Antigua and Barbuda, according to Import Genius, a website that registers the imports to and from the United States.
A few days before being killed, Mendoza Isea went to Miami, where he met some friends with whom he used to hang out and have fun in nightclubs. But on that visit to Miami, which would be his last, the businessman avoided nights out. His reason? He did not want to meet his old partner, Salvador Lairet.
The relationship between them was very tense. They had distanced from each other as a result of a legal dispute over the ownership of some real properties in Florida. "Mendoza had won the claims for these apartments, but Lairet insisted", said a person close to the victim who coincided with him in Florida.
Lairet and Mendoza were very good friends, they shared the same groups of acquaintances from schools in eastern Caracas and had been partners in several companies registered in Venezuela and abroad. The local ones received more than 13 million dollars at preferential rate from the Government only in 2012.
In May 2016, the opposition deputy to the National Assembly, Robert Alcalá, denounced before the National Assembly's Controller's Committee a group of young entrepreneurs under suspicion of being involved in corruption crimes for more than 800 million dollars, through the allocation of foreign currency by the extinct Commission on Foreign Currency Administration (Cadivi), the entity created in 2003 by Hugo Chavez to regulate the strict and convoluted currency exchange control system.
One of the companies among those denounced by Alcalá was Gerkat Corporation "created and registered in Peru by Salvador Lairet, Fabrizio Mendoza and Álvaro Pulido, nephew of Piedad Córdoba, for chemicals imports. In March 2012, this company requested Cadivi 445 thousand dollars for the purchase of a coffee mill, when its real price was 135 thousand dollars, which means a surplus of 310 thousand dollars. The worst thing is that the same request was introduced ten times. These dollars exchanged at a 4.30 Bs/$ rate were resold by the Gerkat Corporation owners, who used the company as a facade for their illicit activities", reviewed the Cuentas Claras portal on the documents presented by the parliamentarian.
Also according to the same website, as mentioned by the deputy, among those related to Mendoza Isea was Alex Saab, "representative of the Colombian company Fondo Global de Construcción, which obtained several contracts with the government of Hugo Chávez in the past".
Álvaro Pulido Vargas and Alex Saab are two businessmen from the Colombian Atlantic coast. Indeed, they are directors of Fondo Global de Construcción, a company closely linked to the governor of the state of Vargas, Jorge García Carneiro, and accused by the Ecuadorian prosecutor's office as part of a fraudulent scheme to obtain preferential dollars in Venezuela under the pretense of exporting from that country. They are also important suppliers of the Local Committees of Supply and Production (Clap), the formula patented by the Government of Nicolás Maduro to control the distribution of food and essential goods in popular zones. In Caracas, the representation of its commercial emporium occupies a whole floor of the Centro Galipán, in the Francisco de Miranda avenue. It is known that Pulido Vargas, whose relationship with former congressman and presidential candidate, Piedad Córdoba hasn't been proved, doesn't use his real name; and that Saab, who does recognize having a friendly relationship with politics, has been investigated by US authorities.
In the list of deputy Alcalá also appear four other companies attributed to the group of young entrepreneurs: Mexbin SA (Ecuador), Chenys Exportaciones EIRL (Peru), Corporación 1 TO 1 S.R.L (Peru) and Radio Communications Telocaliza1 C.A., which carried out transactions for 4.6 million dollars for the alleged importation of sodium sulfate to a company incorporated in Ecuador and related to Mendoza, Lairet, Pulido and Alejandro Berrizbeitia. This same group carried out similar operations with the company Gones Indonesia C.A., which received more than $8.8 millions from Cadivi.
The business consisted in the creation of fake companies in different regions of Venezuela (Aragua, Amazonas, Lara, among other states), which requested preferential dollars for chemicals imports from companies also constituted or related to the same group of entrepreneurs in Ecuador and Peru, mainly. In most cases the products for which they requested the dollars were not even related to the corporate name of the companies. The dollars they received at 4.30 bolivars - the cheapest official exchange rate in the system - were traded on the black market at more than 20 bolivars or simply went straight to the requesters' individual accounts.
"According to the allegations, Lairet is directly or indirectly related to 11 companies - six nationals (in Amazonas, Aragua, Lara, Monagas and Capital District) and five foreign ones (three in Peru and two in Ecuador) - involved in requests for approximately $13.9 millions to import chemicals. Among them, sodium sulfate, titanium dioxide, cetostearyl alcohol and sodium benzoate, a food additive; products not associated with the name of each company" claimed a note of the portal El Pitazo.
The parliamentarian Robert Alcalá also referred to the life of luxuries and ostentation that this group of young investors boased abroad. "These gentlemen have no way of justifying the fortune, the billions of dollars they have, the amount of money they spend in the world and the life they live" he said, with a special mention for Lairet.
A dispute over the control of businesses based on obtaining preferential dollars would be the motive of the commissioned crime. "This is not revenge. It's a war of cartels. The person who had the contacts and got the business was displaced by his partners, who stopped reporting him and giving him part of the profits. And now he has decided to take back what he considered to be his" explained an expert who has been following up on the case.
This fight of cartels, born and fed with preferential dollars, is not new; it has already claimed the lives of several Venezuelans in countries where these mafias' operators have settled. In 2013, a similar conflict resulted in the murder of Sergio Andrés Schael Medina, 33 years old. He traveled from Florida to Panama to collect a debt of $40,000, after an exchange transaction through Cadivi, and appeared dead after a meeting with two Venezuelan businessmen.
Acquaintances of this group of young entrepreneurs, affirm that the Mendoza case would be related to the deaths in strange circumstances of two Venezuelans in Miami, who were linked to organizations of this type.
Having made this decision without first requesting the approval of the person leading the operations from the United States would have costed him his life
One of those who were killed in Florida was the person in charge of overseeing the proper functioning of the organization's business in Venezuela, revealed one of the detainees. This man - whose data have not been specified - one day decided to move to Miami and open his own company looking for a better quality of life, tired of dealing with food shortages, lack of medicines and insecurity. He left his other partners and friends in charge of the local activity.
Having made this decision without first requesting the approval of the person leading the operations from the United States would have costed him his life. He was pointed out as responsible for the "diversion" of the business administration and the displacement of the cartel leadership.
According to information made public by Miami media, in the last year two Venezuelans have died in strange circumstances in the state of Florida. On June 28, 2016, the 26 years old architect, model and actor Jorge Lenin Navas, known as Jorge Ilich, died as he fell from the seventh floor of the residential tower where he lived in Miami Beach. Although the case has been handled as a suicide, his family and friends assert his death should be investigated.
On February 22nd, 2017 the body of Venezuelan businessman Juan Alberto Miraldo, 48 years old, was located inside his vehicle in the parking lot of Miami International Airport. Although there was no visible trauma, the police began the homicide investigation. Miraldo was president of the company Mirakar Car Rental and vice president of 1 Rent Car, both based in the city of Doral, a predominantly Venezuelan suburb to the west of Miami-Dade County.
Investigators of the Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Division of the CICPC are aware of these cases, but they do not yet have evidence to link them with the murder of Mendoza and Herrera. They continue to put the pieces together and they are tracking the two perpetrators of the crime, as well as who they consider the intellectual author, Salvador Lairet, for whom is expected an arrest warrant to be issued soon from Venezuela and the subsequent broadcast of a global alert by Interpol.
The Mayas, who in the classical era of their civilization mysteriously depopulated large stone cities in Mesoamerica, now, a millennium later, abandon their adobe and thatched roof villages in the Yucatán peninsula at a rate that could be comparable. Every year, over a thousand cross the border into the United States. This time their motives are not a mystery: local poverty and the promise of a better life, especially in California, push them to exodus. The traffic is bidirectional, in any case. While the people march north, back to the south come remittances of money, hopes and new cultural patterns. However, life for those who stay at home is not easy, especially for married women, who submit not only to an endless wait, but also to asphyxiating social norms.
From being recognized in Margarita Island as the heir of the picturesque “Ranchos de Chana” (Chana’s slums) he has come to raise a different reputation outside Venezuela. In Miami, Florida, land of the Cuban exile and more recently of the Venezuelan exile, Pedro José Castillo Uzcátegui presents himself as a visionary business man, although in practice he has become a professional scammer.
Two US citizens arrived in Venezuela this year on closed dates, and both were left in prison to face terrorism charges. Since then, their destinations began to diverge. Deportation is expected for one of them; a long season in Venezuelan dungeons for the other. But, above all, it is an exercise to test the definitions of 'terrorism' and 'news' for the propaganda apparatus of the chavista government, archrival of Washington. While the capture of one of them deserved a press conference by the Minister of Interior, the other went unnoticed. Why? Who is who in these parallel stories?
When Vice President Delcy Rodríguez turned to a group of Mexican friends and partners to lessen the new electricity emergency in Venezuela, she laid the foundation stone of a shortcut through which Chavismo and its commercial allies have dodged the sanctions imposed by Washington on PDVSA’s exports of crude oil. Since then, with Alex Saab, Joaquín Leal and Alessandro Bazzoni as key figures, the circuit has spread to some thirty countries to trade other Venezuelan commodities. This is part of the revelations of this joint investigative series between the newspaper El País and Armando.info, developed from a leak of thousands of documents.
Leaked documents on Libre Abordo and the rest of the shady network that Joaquín Leal managed from Mexico, with tentacles reaching 30 countries, ―aimed to trade PDVSA crude oil and other raw materials that the Caracas regime needed to place in international markets in spite of the sanctions― show that the businessman claimed to have the approval of the Mexican government and supplies from Segalmex, an official entity. Beyond this smoking gun, there is evidence that Leal had privileged access to the vice foreign minister for Latin America and the Caribbean, Maximiliano Reyes.
The business structure that Alex Saab had registered in Turkey—revealed in 2018 in an article by Armando.info—was merely a false start for his plans to export Venezuelan coal. Almost simultaneously, the Colombian merchant made contact with his Mexican counterpart, Joaquín Leal, to plot a network that would not only market crude oil from Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, as part of a maneuver to bypass the sanctions imposed by Washington, but would also take charge of a scheme to export coal from the mines of Zulia, in western Venezuela. The dirty play allowed that thousands of tons, valued in millions of dollars, ended up in ports in Mexico and Central America.
As part of their business network based in Mexico, with one foot in Dubai, the two traders devised a way to replace the operation of the large international credit card franchises if they were to abandon the Venezuelan market because of Washington’s sanctions. The developed electronic payment system, “Paquete Alcance,” aimed to get hundreds of millions of dollars in remittances sent by expatriates and use them to finance purchases at CLAP stores.
Scions of different lineages of tycoons in Venezuela, Francisco D’Agostino and Eduardo Cisneros are non-blood relatives. They were also partners for a short time in Elemento Oil & Gas Ltd, a Malta-based company, over which the young Cisneros eventually took full ownership. Elemento was a protagonist in the secret network of Venezuelan crude oil marketing that Joaquín Leal activated from Mexico. However, when it came to imposing sanctions, Washington penalized D’Agostino only… Why?
Through a company registered in Mexico – Consorcio Panamericano de Exportación – with no known trajectory or experience, Joaquín Leal made a daring proposal to the Venezuelan Guyana Corporation to “reactivate” the aluminum industry, paralyzed after March 2019 blackout. The business proposed to pay the power supply of state-owned companies in exchange for payment-in-kind with the metal.