Roy Wayne Roby, a retired lieutenant-colonel in the Venezuelan Air Force linked to an Arizona plot to violate an arms embargo, was arrested last week in Florida.
Two weeks ago, an Arizona federal judge sentenced a Venezuelan Air Force colonel to 19 months in prison in the same case, which involved a 2007 shipment to the South American country of four military-grade airplane engines.
Retired Phoenix aviation company executive Floyd Stilwell, meanwhile, was sentenced in May only to probation and a $250,000 fine for spearheading the U.S. end of the illegal deal which earned him $1.8 million.
We've been following this bit of international intrigue since we learned in May of Stilwell's light sentence and $250,000 fine for the central role he and the Mesa company he formerly led, Marsh Aviation, played in the scheme.
The history of the case goes back to 2006, when the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez became an irritant to former President George W. Bush. The leftist president expressed support for the insurgents fighting in Iraq at the time against U.S. troops and said Bush was a "terrorist." The State Department responded with claims that Venezuela was harboring terrorists and narcotics dealers, and in March of 2006 slapped the country with an arms embargo.
But modern militaries are high-maintenance. Some of Chavez's tanks and planes needed urgent upgrades.
A delegation from the Venezuelan military traveled to Mesa in mid-2006 and met with Stilwell, who drew up a secret contract other Marsh Aviation employees reportedly never saw. The company would refurbish several T-76 military engines for Venezuela's OV-10 Bronco light-attack turboprop planes.
The colonel who was sentenced last month, Guiseppe Luciano Menegazzo-Carrasquel, and two other Venezuelans worked illegally on the project under their diplomatic visas, becoming trained on the engines. Retired officer Roy Roby acted as Stilwell's primary liaison with the Venezuelan Air Force, records state.
Evidence of the plot included a copy of a November 30, 2006, report to Venezuela's Ministry of Defense that says six of 18 engines scheduled to be refurbished were ready and waiting for shipment to the country once Stilwell got paid. Court records state that $1.8 million was deposited in Stilwell's personal bank account.
Emails between Stilwell and Roby in 2007 and other records trace how they conspired to mislabel the engines as civilian-aircraft parts. Four engines in mislabeled crates were shipped in late 2007 first to Florida, then via ocean freight to Valencia, Venezuela. An email from Roby to Stilwell in early 2008 states that the Venezuela Air Force was happy with the engines and looked forward to doing more business with Stilwell.
Somehow, the feds caught wind of the scheme and in 2010, Stilwell, Roby, and the others were indicted on several felony counts related to the embargo violation. Besides probation and the $250,000 fine, Stilwell was forced to relinquish ownership of his Mesa company. Still, with a net profit of about $1.5 million after subtracting the fine, he seems to have made out okay.
Roby, 55, was able to escape punishment by U.S. authorities by simply staying put in Venezuela, where he lives with his wife.
But inexplicably, he flew to Florida last week -- and into the waiting arms of federal agents. He told Homeland Security investigators that he'd come on vacation to visit relatives in Florida, records state.
His sister, Nannie Roby McMartin of Boca Raton, backs up the vacation story.
Roby may be a retired lieutenant colonel, but he's also a "naive idiot" who thought the arms-embargo case had been cleared up by now, says his sister, who phoned us after Roby's arrest.
"God knows what this is going to cost the family," she laments. She and her brother have a Venezuelan mom and American dad, she says.
Roby McMartin says her brother made no money in the deal, unlike the "old bastard," Stilwell.
"My brother is a victim of this guy," she says, referring to Stilwell. "He didn't know this was illegal."
Roby waived his Miranda rights after his arrest, records state, and told agents he remembered meeting with Stilwell in Arizona once to talk about buying firefighting planes for his home country, though that deal was never consummated. However, he admitted he'd later "done Stilwell a favor" by finding a middleman to help with shipping some aircraft engines to Venezuela. He also paid for the shipment with his credit card, expecting that Stilwell would reimburse him, he told the agents.
Roby reportedly tried to convince the agents that, somehow, the deal would allow him to "gain access to former colleagues in the Venezuelan Air Force in an effort to assist in the internal struggles against Chavez."
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Federal prosecutors in Florida want him to stay in jail until his trial, which will take place in Arizona. Roby was assigned a federal public defender.
Nannie Roby McMartin says she's worried that her brother will follow Menegazzo-Carrasque to prison while Stilwell remains free -- and rich.
"Who cares how old he is -- he should have gone to prison," she says. "If you have the money on your side, you've got the power on your side."
We'll follow major developments in Roby's case, so check back here for updates.