The never-ending scams of Pedro Castillo

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.

25 June 2017
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An arrest warrant issued by Interpol in 2011 didn’t stop him. Neither did the various law suits he should have faced back in Venezuela. Pedro José Castillo Uzcátegui changed countries but not trades, and he’s being applying a technique with which he has being able to fool known and unknown people, recognized professionals from the Cuban community in Miami and Venezuelan talents that, running from their country’s crisis, have come to the United States for a fresh start. 

His name in Venezuela could be just another citizen’s name until you clear out his descent. He is the son of Chana Uzcátegui, creator of the recognized “Ranchos de Chana” in Margarita Island in the East part of the country. He is alongside with his siblings Triana and José, the legal representative of the Promotora Chana company, and the heir of a well-known touristic project as colorful as it is expensive, full of the luxuries that various figures from chavismo could afford with their dollars and ignoring an exchange control system established in 2003 and that still stands today.

Being the son of Chana was his big presentation card in Miami, Florida from his start as a business man in this city: those who knew the mother trusted the son. That way he won over some people but not all of them because Pedro Castillo has come to climb his way up in his business not just because he is “the son of...”. His cleverness, slyness and good verbal skills would be his real weapons to get in top with the best, undertake various projects and gain his fame. A fame wanted by few.

“We all believe his trade is to scam, or rather, to be a scammer”, says Arnaldo Limanski, a Venezuelan producer.

They’re not tales. A law suit introduced in the court of Miami Dade (case M13-40403) confirms one of the stories that goes up to more than 45 people conned in five projects, all of them communication media: three digital signal television stations, a magazine and a radio station. And the Interpol order that was still active until May 2017 speaks out about his past in Venezuela and his relations with chavismo.

A repeated and improved tactic

In February 2015, when the Cuban community took on the task of denouncing via printed and digital media the scams Pedro Castillo Uzcátegui had done to them (some he didn’t pay, some he borrowed money from that he didn’t return later) none of them knew of the previous mischief of this Venezuelan.

At this time, he had already been processed in Miami Dade Court for a minor offense, writing checks with insufficient funds, and he was conditionally released under the commitment to pay $10.000 to the complainant Raúl Rodríguez, $750 minimum per month. All this is explained with detail on his case file (M13-40403) registered on September 17th 2013, file that was judicially active on August 2016 because the debt had not been paid yet.

None of this was of the knowledge of those who decided to join Castillo Uzcátegui on that project he decided to start at the end of 2014, the Internet radio station Mia 1450 AM.

Its transmissions went on air on December 2014 and in February 2015 the complaints started to receive coverage on paper and radio. Journalists, announcers, designers, administrative staff and other professionals, nearly all of them from Cuban origins, took on the task of exposing their cases and find out who else had been cheated by this Venezuelan residing in Miami under, in his own words, an investor’s visa.

Contacted two years later he assures that these complaints led to nowhere

None of the workers, around 25 people, could collect their wages, not even the ones that started working since October, denounced at that time Nelson Rubio, one of the journalists Castillo Uzcátegui owed $8.000 from his salary as the conductor of one of the shows. Contacted two years later he assures that these complaints led to nowhere because even today the man has not paid any of them.

Roberto Ariel confirms it. This Cuban journalist was hired by the Venezuelan to make a news web page for the radio station. He worked with him for 45 days and left, not only because he was not paid but because he was blatantly deceived. “A lot worse” he assures.

Two were the excuses given by Castillo Uzcátegui to the station staff to justify the late payments, one was that he had a check for $3.000.000 made out to him that he had not been able to deposit. He even showed it as a proof that he could pay. “But it was fake”, assures Ariel. The other excuse concerned his bank accounts which were frozen as a result of the divorce application he was facing at the moment.

This was the excuse he gave to Ariel. He had verbally committed himself to pay him $2.000 as a monthly salary, promising to raise it up to $3.000 or $4.000 if business went well.

Within 15 days of work in the radio station he asked for the payment. Castillo Uzcátegui told him he would give him the money at the end of the month stating that was the reached agreement. It didn’t happen. He insisted and the man wanted to make a deal. Roberto Ariel remembers the scene and the dialogues:

“He told me he had some jewelry he would pawn so he could pay me a part but not the whole amount”

“He told me he had some jewelry he would pawn so he could pay me a part but not the whole amount. He asked me how much money did I need, I told him at least the rent money which were $550 and he told me ?OK, let’s trade the jewels’.

When they were going out to the pawnshop, Castillo Uzcátegui asked him to wait in the station for an acquaintance that would bring a package, meanwhile he would look for the jewels at his house and they would meet at the shop door at the agreed time. Ariel trusted his word.

“When I arrived, he was nowhere to be seen. He never showed up, never stood up to me. I complained to him, he banned me from entering the station, I waited for him at the door every day and in the end I left. He never answered. That is Pedro Castillo”, says in his heavy Cuban accent and with a tone of indignation as if the offense had just occurred.

All those who didn’t collect their salary decided to join and hire a famous Cuban lawyer to sue. They didn’t achieve anything. For the case to prosper, Castillo Uzcátegui had to have some property on his name so that the lawyer of the victims could take the amount of the debt from there and distribute it, but they couldn’t find anything. The lawyer dismissed them. They contacted another one with the same result. Without a property, they couldn’t win the case, so none of them wanted to take on that lost cause.

Although they couldn’t recover their money, the investigation made by this Cubans leaded them to find indications that the Venezuelan was no novice on these matters. Years back something of the sort had occurred to various Venezuelans linked to the media, that had started to migrate to Miami.  Castillo Uzcátegui had use the same pattern and improved his technique, especially after that one lawsuit that could prosper for issuing bad checks.

First steps in Miami

RH Noticias was one of the first digital television channels that this Venezuelan, born in Maracay, Aragua state in 1967, wanted to put on the air. It was registered with that same name on August 2011 and it remained active until September 2012 according to legal registers, although the staff didn’t complete a year of work.

“This lasted almost three months, until none of us could stand not receiving the accorded fees. Nobody could get their wages”, says Arnaldo Limanski.

“This lasted almost three months, until none of us could stand not receiving the accorded fees.”

On this project Castillo Uzcátegui applied his cunning. He wanted to form a TV channel exclusively for information so he contacted two renowned professionals to drive it forward: Eduardo Sapene, who had been vice president of information on RCTV (one of the main open television channels in Venezuela until it went off air on May 2007 after Hugo Chávez refused to renew its concession) and Arnaldo Limanski, a movies and soup operas producer in Venezuela and Latin America. With both names to his credit he started the quest for talents.

The host María Alejandra Requena remembers she didn’t know Castillo Uzcátegui but she did know Sapene, and it was because of him, because of his trajectory on RCTV and for having worked on the same channel, that she decided to listen to the proposition. They began negotiations through her manager and finally there was no agreement. “Thanks God it didn’t happen” she says now.

From the only time she spoke to Castillo, a brief encounter where they only talked about the project, she was left with the impression that the man was a little arrogant but that he had a clear view of what he wanted to do and how.

Limanski accepted working with him because of the invitation from quite “eminent” Venezuelan journalists. “If they were there, it must be good”, he says, but he also acknowledges that his own name was used to get a good staff, because if he was in, good projects could be expected. Limanski was the producer of all of Román Chalbaud’s movies, except “El Pez que Fuma”, he worked on RCTV producing soap operas, he was production manager on Venevisión and Vice President of Telemundo in Miami.

His work in RH Noticias would be mounting the channel and the production of the programs in the two studios rented for that end. Castillo Uzcátegui ended up owing him $30.000 after three months of work. On this time, he delayed the payments and when he finally delivered all the checks at the same time, they all bounced. The checks had no funds.

“I was one of those who took most of the damage, I remember Sapene didn’t last more than 15 days”, Limanski points out. Contacted via email, Sapene chose to stand aside: “My working relationship with Mr. Castillo was very brief and it occurred almost six years ago, so I don’t wish to speak more of that subject”, he answered.

After various months on production, changes on stage, contact with international news agencies and apparent investments on technology, the channel didn’t go on air in digital. “It was a lot of money. A month passed, another more and he didn’t pay. Besides we started to notice that he was delaying everything. Those of us who could endure it for a while would, but it came a moment when we asked ourselves “what’s going on here?”, adds Limanski.

More communication media

That would not be the last work team asking themselves the same question without understanding the situation, because Castillo Uzcátegui is persistent. Or maybe, as an old family friend describes him, “he loves to get into trouble”.

After RH Noticias, where this “businessman” appeared in the registers as President, his name stopped showing in the directive board of his new businesses. The second TV channel would be called Democracia TV and then it would change its name to DTV Mundo. Castillo Uzcátegui was in charge for a while, then it changed owners and closed on October 2014.

“He changed its name because of the bad name he got for not paying people”, assures another one of the scammed Venezuelans that even became his associate. He asks to remain anonymous.

The Venezuelan professionals, most of them journalists, who decided to migrate or ask asylum in Miami were again the target, and as a good “snake charmer” as his ex-associate describes him, Castillo Uzcátegui was convincing. He did it with RH Noticias and then again with Mia 1450 AM.

On this occasion, he took advantage of the Venezuelan context, he said he had some Cuban partners with digital TV equipment, said that they could create media so they would defeat the censorship that was getting worse in Venezuela after the sale of the Globovisión TV channel made on May 2013, that they would install a correspondent station in Caracas and they would have opinion programs with the polemic hosts that had ran away from the South American country.

Yolanda Medina, Venezuelan journalist that was the producer of Napoleón Bravo’s program on this adventure, tells that along him and the internationalist Vilma Petrash, they denounced the nonfulfillment of the payments on court but didn’t achieve anything.

“It was such a problem for them to pay, he still owes me $1.000”, says Medina. A low amount. He owned a presenter $4.500 and to the workers in the correspondent station installed in Caracas, for which Castillo Uzcátegui bought recording equipment, the debt goes up to $120.000, tell those who made business with him and that, equal to their Miami resident colleagues, ask not to be named.

“What Castillo offered sounded like a good idea so many of us decided to take the risk.”

“What Castillo offered sounded like a good idea so many of us decided to take the risk. Half way we started getting comments from friends and even family members of Pedro himself called to warned us about making business with him because he didn’t pay. One of us made the remark to him and he said those were envious people, that it wasn’t true.  After that the workers started complaining that they weren’t getting paid and we didn’t understand what was going on because Pedro showed us the checks”, says a Venezuelan journalist. They had no funds.

On those days of Democracia TV, Castillo Uzcátegui meets the Venezuelan that would accept to become his partner, a young man who had various TV equipment and some money support with which he was planning to publish an equestrian magazine. He knew again how to aim at his target.

The partner invested near $60.000 between the channel and the magazine, and although Castillo Uzcátegui also invested some amount, the project started to crumble as the payments delayed. It ended up falling apart when he started asking the advertisers of the magazine for money in exchange for publications that never came to exist.

The equestrian project and the partnership between both men ended, but the breakup showed another act of cunning from Castillo Uzcátegui. Without warning or authorization, he had registered the channel under this associate and other investor’s names, getting rid of the budget responsibilities. He was in charge of administration and finances in all of the projects, the advertiser’s checks should get to his hands and he would deposit them. That’s what was strange about the lack of payments because it couldn’t be understood what he did with the money.

“Pedro is a very open guy, agreeable, with a skill to sell ideas, he manages you to connect with him”

The list of affected Venezuelans isn’t short, there are more than 10 renowned names like Roland Carreño, alongside with that of other producers, moderators, journalists, technicians and administrative personnel, but different from the Cubans that were conned by the same person, the Venezuelans didn’t join to make the swindles public. Was it shame, pride, the risk of losing their migratory status? Various factors to consider. The truth is that all these stories allow to construct a summary of very well thought and convincing actions from a very skillful man.

“Pedro is a very open guy, agreeable, with a skill to sell ideas, he manages you to connect with him. He’s also a bit shameless, if he owes you money and you run into him on the street he will greet you as if nothing happened, and he’s capable of telling you that you are the one that owes him. He’s the perfect con man”, says with a laugh another Venezuelan journalist that worked for him in DTV Mundo.

He learned something on the island

On February 4th 2011 the name Pedro José Castillo Uzcátegui was added to the Interpol list of people wanted by the Venezuelan Government. The offenses for which he was wanted were fraud, usage of public funds and criminal association.

The measure was related to the funding that the Promotora Chana C.A company received on May 2007, being him one of their legal representatives, by the Fund for Endogenous Development (Fonendógeno), by that moment on dependence of the Ministry of Communal Economy. A credit of 13 million bolívares was approved for the “rebuild, endowment and equipment of the Chana Puerto Fermín hotel”, located in the Antolín del Campo municipality, El Tirano Beach, Margarita Island, one of the most attractive touristic spots from the East of Venezuela.

The fact that the Promotora Chana C.A company, registered on 2005, had been benefited by Hugo Chávez’s Government with the construction of a hotel is something that can be explained by the connections Castillo Uzcátegui had made during his years in Margarita.

He got married with Alexa Navarro, the daughter of Alexis Navarro, the Nueva Esparta state Governor from 2000 to 2004 and militant of the Movimiento V República (Fifth Republic Movement) (MVR), Hugo Chávez’s party before the foundation of the PSUV. He was a candidate to the mayoralty of the Antolín del Campo municipality in 2004 with Proyecto Venezuela (a small opposition party) but he lost, he got on third place with 2.064 votes. That year his father in law didn’t achieve the reelection as Governor but was appointed as Venezuelan Ambassador in Russia.

His mother Chana Uzcátegui’s project of expanding the concept of her picturesque housings to other areas of the Caribbean Island and of the country also got him contacts. He had found acceptance with the Government in the Ministry of Tourism. Chana wanted to develop a hotel in Cardón Beach, in Los Roques and in Coche Island.

It was also known that Castillo Uzcátegui had relations with Jorge Rodríguez

It was also known that Castillo Uzcátegui had relations with Jorge Rodríguez, an important figure on Chávez’s Government and now of Nicolás Maduro’s. They were partners, says a person close to the family, one of his associates in Miami.

A report issued by the General Accountancy Office of Venezuela on 2011 included this case on a chapter dedicated to the Fonendógeno. The organization’s version states that Promotora Chana company got 13,72 million bolívares for the rebuild of the Chana Puerto Fermín hotel (the old El Tirano hotel), but it infringed the conditions stated for the credit that included the mortgage of the hotel in favor of Fonendógeno and the payment of this fund in fixed quotas in an 8-year period.   

Promotora Chana didn’t fulfill Fonendógeno’s mortgage because it had already signed on another one with the Banco Industrial de Venezuela (Industrial Bank of Venezuela), for a loan to remodel this same hotel. But it even fell into another irregularity by selling the hotel to Seguros Premier insurance company on July 2009, two years after receiving the funding. On 2010 the insurance company declared bankruptcy.

On this truss of irregularities where the Accountancy Office couldn’t determine the whereabouts of the given money, Castillo Uzcátegui sued Seguros Premier for not paying him: even though the contract of sale was legally registered, the funds never arrived to his account. The Chana Puerto Fermín hotel was sold in 103 million bolívares, about $16 million at the time. Nowadays it is in the hands of the State and abandoned.

This case represents the ending of Castillo Uzcátegui’s business story in Margarita Island, a story that was already bad from past years. He had been the manager of a garbage collecting company called Cauvica, registered in 1997 in Nueva Esparta that gave its services on this entity and on Anzoátegui. On this company, that was from a family member, he had to face numerous labor lawsuits for not paying his workers, even though he received funds to pay for these liabilities. The company closed and he kept owing the personnel.

After that he tried to break his bad streak as a manager with Promotora Chana, boosting his mother’s project of expanding the Ranchos de Chana to other areas and opening hotels in Los Roques Island, Coche Island and Margarita in El Cardón Beach apart from the El Tirano housing. In fact, on January 2009 he opened the Chana El Cardón hotel after 18 months of building and 50 million bolívares invested, a work that started almost at the same time as he received the State funding to rebuild the El Tirano hotel. There are no few versions that coincide with the statement that the hotel was constructed with diverted public funds.

And from the inauguration of the Chana El Cardón hotel, later named as Ikin Margarita, the luxury party was very well remembered, a party that had the presence of the Spanish Bertín Osborne, the only one that could charge for his work because he asked for his payment in advance, assure friends and people who attended the event.

“That’s a lie, they took it against me and I had to come here”

It was like this that the plans for expanding the Chana hotels didn’t last. With a history of lawsuits against him and against the Promotora Chana company that started to fall strongly since 2010 and that included trials for the charging of bolívares (Bolívar Banco and Banco Fondo Común), property lien, prohibition from alienating and encumbering assets, aggravated fraud and breach of contracts, Castillo Uzcátegui decides to leave Venezuela. He did it before the arrest warrant against him was issued by Interpol.

“That’s a lie, they took it against me and I had to come here”, told Castillo Uzcátegui to one of his associates on DTV Mundo in Miami some years ago, talking about that warrant that is still active and that almost nobody knew about on each of his bad tracks.

He has not been detained, but the charges in his record have been updated: fraudulent harvest of public funds. Castillo Uzcátegui was contacted by phone to ask him about his stance and his version of all the accusations against him, from the frauds to the Interpol warrant, but he only said “no” and hanged up the call.

“Who’s behind it? Someone must be protecting him, we can’t understand how he hasn’t been arrested or deported”, states Arnoldo Limanski, and he is not the only cheated one who asks himself that same question. He is apparently being protected by the United States Government, for collaborating on drug trafficking and corruption investigations that involve functionaries from chavismo, says the journalist Nelson Rubio. On May 2017, the name of Pedro José Castillo Uzcátegui was excluded from Interpol’s wanted list.

Now, after staying away from the mass media business, he has appeared on something new. From a few months back he is been linked with a restaurant called El Jaleo de la Ocho, Steak House found on Calle 8 in Miami. The Cubans he cheated have been following his steps. His name does not appear on the enterprise’s register, not as owner neither as director, but he has been seen daily on the restaurant’s bar and it was there where he picked up the call that he decided to finish minutes later. The payments for the personnel are issued with delay.

Pedro José Castillo Uzcátegui doesn’t stop.

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