(NEW YORK POST) – Friends and relatives of two US mercenaries captured by Venezuela in a botched attempt to oust President Nicolás Maduro said they believe the former special forces soldiers would only have taken part in the mission had they been convinced it was backed by the White House, according to a report.
Luke Denman and Airan Berry have appeared on Venezuelan TV admitting their role in the wild May 3 attack, which authorities said was orchestrated by former Green Beret Jordan Goudreau and Gen. Cliver Alcala, a Venezuelan army defector.
They are among 34 combatants taken into custody for the raid, which Goudreau reportedly helped set up to cash in on a $15 million US bounty for Maduro’s capture.
Eight mercenaries were killed in the operation, which Maduro has blamed on the US, the Colombian government and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
President Trump and Guaido have denied any involvement.
A half-dozen family members and close friends of the two captured Americans told NBC News they believe the men would have only participated in the operation had they been convinced it was supported by the Trump administration.
Some of the friends and relatives said they believe Denman and Berry were misled.
“The only conclusion I can draw is he was intentionally deceived,” Denman pal Daniel Dochen told the network. “And Goudreau sent his former comrade-in-arms on a suicide mission in service of his ego.”
He said Denman had told him before the raid that he was involved in an effort “sanctioned by the US government.”
“That’s really all I know about it,” Dochen told NBC News.
Berry’s wife Melanie said that she also felt strongly that he was led to believe the US supported the mission.
“He’s not the type of person who would do something that hasn’t gone through the proper channels,” she told the news outlet.
Melanie, who is German, added that her husband left Germany in January after telling her he accepted a job with Goudreau’s company.
“He trusted Jordan. He believed in Jordan,” she said, adding that her husband wouldn’t give details about his job or how long he expected to be gone.
“He said he couldn’t share anything with me but that it’s for a good cause,” Melanie told NBC News.
After leaving the service, Denman took on a variety of jobs across the country, including at a tree nursery in Texas, then in hotel security in Florida and finally as an underwater welder in Louisiana.
But unlike many former special forces soldiers, he appeared to be uninterested in pursuing contract work abroad, his family and friends said.
In 2017, Denman visited Drew White, another former Green Beret, during a cross-country motorcycle trip.
“When he was here, he was still Luke but it just seemed he was searching for something,” White told the network. “I thought he had found it with the welding stuff, but looking back on it, I think he just missed the camaraderie and having that sense of purpose.”
Late last year, Denman was living with his girlfriend, Tatianna Saito, in Oregon. Like Berry, he left in January without saying much.
“I didn’t know the nature of the job or where it was,” Saito told NBC News. “I just knew that he seemed to think it was a great opportunity.”
Over the next few months, Denman remained in sporadic touch with her via text messages and phone calls, but remained tight-lipped about his job.
“I’d ask, ‘Is everything OK?’ And he’d say, ‘I feel like this is my calling. I feel like this is something very meaningful,’” Saito recalled.
In March, the Justice Department leveled narcoterrorism charges against Maduro and members of his inner circle.
The Trump administration offered a $15 million reward for information leading to the arrest of the authoritarian socialist.
Saito said she last heard from Denman in mid-April, about two weeks before the botched raid.
In an interrogation video, Denman said he was expecting to be paid between $50,000 and $100,000 for his role in seizing control of the airport in Caracas and bringing in a plane to be used to fly Maduro to the US.
“I was helping Venezuelans take back control of their country,” Denman said.
Denman’s parents said the footage of their son gave them hope he was being treated humanely.
But Frank Denman said it’s been tough to read some of the media accounts describing his son as a money-motivated mercenary.
“What he believed about this operation had to be very different than what the facts on the ground were,” he told NBC News.