Morales has said he was tipped off to the extortion band via anonymous messages on his cell phone. Romero, meanwhile, told Bolivian reporters the investigation began three months ago. Smith said from Washington Monday that Romero told him last week that the probe began in June — the day after Smith complained to him about "rogue prosecutors" persecuting Ostreicher. He said Romero made no such commitment in June.
Rivera initially oversaw cases against political opponents of Morales, many of whom fled the country, rendering the opposition weak and fragmented. Later, he moved into major drug-trafficking prosecutions.
He didn't just shake down people for money, Romero said.
The wife of a former police officer on trial for drug trafficking, Esther Gorena, told the AP Rivera began driving her husband's late-model Honda after it was seized.
Another alleged victim, the former mayor of the town of Warnes in Santa Cruz state, said he spent three months in prison rather than pay the $50,000 the band demanded after accusing him of links to a drug trafficker.
The ex-mayor, Mario Cronembold, said he complained to the president and Morales told him to "stick it out."
Morales has called the band's activities "reprehensible," but says corruption was worse in Bolivia before he was elected.
Yet the former coca-growers' union leader has been hounded by plenty of scandals since taking office in January 2006 as Bolivia's first indigenous president.
In January, the former president of the state-owned hydrocarbons company, YPFB, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for taking bribes. Last year, former Col. Rene Sanabria was sentenced to 14 years by a U.S. judge for trafficking in cocaine while heading Bolivia's police counterdrug intelligence unit.
Drug-trafficking has long been the leading source of corruption in Bolivia, the world's No. 3 coca producer and an increasingly popular transit and refining country for Peruvian cocaine.
After several scandals, Morales has sacked ministers only to later reinstate them or put them in different, powerful positions.
In 2009, Morales fired his right-hand man, Juan Ramon Quintana, as minister of the presidency after a top Customs official accused Quintana of business dealings with smugglers. Quintana was never investigated, however, and Morales instead put him in charge of the powerful office that manages Bolivia's borders.
Two years later, Quintana was back in his old job.
Associated Press Writer Frank Bajak reported from Bogota, Colombia.
Frank Bajak on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fbajak
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.