Honduran President’s Brother, “Tony Hernandez”, Convicted of Drug Trafficking Gets Life + 30 Year Sentence

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Tony Hernandez, a former Honduran congressman and brother of the sitting president, was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years for drug trafficking by a U.S. judge on Tuesday.

A court in the United States has sentenced the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández to life in prison for drug trafficking.

Former Congressman Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández was found guilty in October 2019 of smuggling tons of cocaine into the US. Prosecutors said he had bribed law enforcement officials and was also complicit in at least two murders.

President Juan Orlando Hernández called his brother’s sentence “outrageous”.

Who is Tony Hernández?

The 42-year-old served as a member of Congress for the National Party from 2014 to 2018.

He was arrested in November 2018 in Miami on charges that he had used his connections with the government to smuggle cocaine through Honduras to the US.

Prosecutors said his career in drug trafficking began as early as 2004, when he started providing Honduran traffickers with information about the movements of the police and the military.

By 2008, Hernández was running his own cocaine lab in Colombia which produced tonnes of the drug, some of which was stamped with his initials.

According to court documents, Hernández was “involved in all stages of the trafficking”, bribing law enforcement officials to protect drug shipments, arranging heavily armed security for cocaine shipments and brokering large bribes from major drug traffickers to powerful political figures”.

Assistant US Attorney Matthew Laroche said Tony Hernández had turned to drug trafficking because he was “greedy”. He “can’t point to poverty, lack of opportunities or a need to support his family,” Mr Laroche said.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez delivers a message after his brother Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez was found guilty of U.S. drug trafficking, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras October 18, 2019. Reuters/Jorge Cabrera/File Photo


How damaging is this for President Hernández?

It is very damaging indeed. While anti-government protests and opposition politicians have accused President Hernández of running a “narco-state” for years, the life sentence for his brother has drawn international attention to Honduras.

Judge Kevin Castel said Tony Hernández’s life sentence plus 30 years was “richly deserved”.

Hernandez, 42, was convicted on the drug charges and related weapons charges in October 2019. Hernandez will also be forced to pay $138.5 million in forfeiture, which prosecutors in their sentencing memo here wrote was “blood money” from drug trafficking.

“This is state-sponsored drug trafficking and this is exactly the type of conduct the government should be targeting, because of the impact it has on Honduras,” U.S. prosecutor Matthew Laroche said. “Honduras is one of the principal drug tran-shipment places in the world and one of the most violent places in the world.”

Laroche went on to say that the “depth of corruption” set Hernandez’s case apart.

“He secured protection from investigation, arrest and extradition by paying massive bribes to politicians, like his brother, and like (former president) Porfirio Lobo Sosa,” Laroche said.

One of the most shocking allegations, $1Million US Dollars from “El Chapo”:

Prosecutors said that jailed Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán had given Tony Hernández $1m (£725,000) as a bribe destined for Juan Orlando Hernández.

He said Hernandez had accepted millions in bribes, including the $1 million from “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, to funnel into the ruling National Party’s coffers for elections in 2009, 2013, and 2017 to benefit his brother, President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

President Hernández has rejected all allegations, saying they are part of a political vendetta against him by drug traffickers and has not yet been charged with a crime.

He has repeatedly said that drug seizures have gone up since he took office and that his family is being targeted by disgruntled drug gangs.

“I find it unbelievable that the false testimonies of self-confessed murderers are listened to and valued in this way,” he said reacting to his brother’s sentence.

“What happened (today) is hard on the family, hard on me personally. I don’t wish it on anyone. I find it outrageous,” he said.

Outraged Citizen’s Have Had Enough:

                                  

“Based upon Tony Hernandez’ free choice to engage in a life of drug trafficking for 12 years, a sentence of life imprisonment is richly deserved,” U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel said in federal court in Manhattan.

Tony Hernandez’s lawyer Peter Brill said he plans to appeal.

In a statement, the Honduran government rejected assertions by U.S. prosecutors that it was a state that fostered drug trafficking.

“We regret that these sentences have as a fundamental pillar, as a cornerstone, the evidently false statements of drug traffickers, who in order to seek benefits for themselves and their families in the United States, they go and lie,” the statement said.

Court filings laid out that in addition to corrupting institutions to transport at least 185,000 kilograms of cocaine to the United States, Tony Hernandez commanded members of Honduran security forces, controlled drug laboratories, sold machine guns and ammunition, some from the military, to drug traffickers, and helped cause two murders.

President Hernandez has often represented himself as tough on drugs, acting as an ally to the United States in immigration and anti-narcotics operations.

The allegations could complicate the efforts of the new U.S. administration of President Joe Biden to address the causes of migration from Central America by investing $4 billion in the region, including Honduras.

In an indictment in a case earlier this month against now-convicted Honduran drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez, prosecutors said that Hernandez, who has been president since 2014, used Honduran law enforcement and military officials to protect drug traffickers.

US DOJ Indictment of Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez:

U.S. Attorneys » Southern District of New York » News » Press Releases

Title: Honduran National Convicted On Drug Trafficking And Weapons Charges

Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez Conspired with High-Ranking Honduran Politicians and Members of the Honduran Military and National Police to Operate a Cocaine Lab in Honduras and Distribute Cocaine Using Air and Maritime Routes

Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that a jury returned a guilty verdict against GEOVANNY FUENTES RAMIREZ (“FUENTES RAMIREZ”) on all three counts in the Indictment, which included cocaine-importation and weapons charges.  FUENTES RAMIREZ is scheduled to be sentenced by the Honorable P. Kevin Castel on June 22, 2021.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez was, up until his arrest by the DEA just over a year ago, a ruthless, powerful, and murderous cocaine trafficker in Honduras.  He facilitated the shipment of large loads of cocaine by bribing Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado, then president of the Honduran National Congress and now the Honduran president.  Hernández Alvarado instructed Fuentes Ramirez to report directly to convicted co-conspirator and former Honduran congressman Tony Hernandez, the president’s brother.  Now Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez, one of the criminal conduits between Honduran officials and drug traffickers, faces a possible life behind bars.”

As reflected in the Indictment, public filings, and the evidence presented at trial:

Beginning in or about 2009, FUENTES RAMIREZ and others established and operated a cocaine laboratory in the Cortés Department of Honduras, where they produced hundreds of kilograms of cocaine each month.  FUENTES RAMIREZ worked with others to receive cocaine shipments sent to Honduras over air and maritime routes, and to transport cocaine that he produced at the laboratory.  FUENTES RAMIREZ provided security for the facility, and for the transportation of cocaine, using heavily armed workers and Honduran police and military personnel.

On several occasions between approximately 2010 and 2013, FUENTES RAMIREZ helped arrange or directly participated in drug-related violence.  In or about 2012, for example, after FUENTES RAMIREZ’s cocaine laboratory was raided by law enforcement, FUENTES RAMIREZ beat and tortured a law enforcement official who FUENTES RAMIREZ believed to have been involved in the investigation of the laboratory.  FUENTES RAMIREZ murdered the officer by shooting him in the head with what FUENTES RAMIREZ described as “mercy shots.”

In or about 2013, FUENTES RAMIREZ paid a bribe of at least approximately $25,000 to Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado (“JOH”), who was at the time the president of the Honduran National Congress, and allowed JOH to access millions of dollars’ worth of cocaine from FUENTES RAMIREZ’s laboratory.  In connection with negotiations relating to the laboratory, JOH told FUENTES RAMIREZ that he was interested in access to the laboratory because of its proximity to Puerto Cortés, a key shipping port on the northern coast of Honduras.  

JOH also told FUENTES RAMIREZ that the Honduran armed forces would provide security, and that Óscar Fernando Chinchilla Banegas, the Attorney General of Honduras, would help protect FUENTES RAMIREZ’s drug trafficking activities.  JOH instructed FUENTES RAMIREZ to report directly to JOH’s brother, Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado (“Tony Hernández”), for purposes of their drug trafficking partnership.  Finally, JOH told FUENTES RAMIREZ that he wanted to make the DEA think that Honduras was fighting drug trafficking, but that instead he was going to eliminate extradition and “stuff drugs up the gringos’ noses,” referring to flooding the United States with cocaine. 

In October 2019, Tony Hernández was convicted of the same offenses as FUENTES RAMIREZ, as well as an additional count of making false statements to the DEA.  FUENTES RAMIREZ met with JOH following two key filings in the prosecution of Tony Hernández, as demonstrated by, among other things, data from FUENTES RAMIREZ’s phone reflecting that he twice searched for directions to JOH’s Casa Presidencial in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, after the filings.  Tony Hernández is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Castel on March 30, 2021.  

FUENTES RAMIREZ, 51, was convicted on three counts:  (1) conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, which carries a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years and a maximum prison term of life; (2) using and carrying machine guns during, and possessing machine guns in furtherance of, the cocaine-importation conspiracy, which carries a mandatory consecutive prison term of 30 years; and (3) conspiring to use and carry machine guns during, and to possess machine guns in furtherance of, the cocaine-importation conspiracy, which carries a maximum prison term of life.

Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding efforts of the DEA’s Special Operations Division Bilateral Investigations Unit, New York Strike Force, and Tegucigalpa Country Office, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael D. Lockard, Jacob H. Gutwillig, Matthew J. Laroche, Jason A. Richman, and Elinor L. Tarlow are in charge of the prosecution.

US DOJ Press Release of Indictment of Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez:

U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York       Friday, October 18, 2019

Former Honduran Congressman Tony Hernández Convicted In Manhattan Federal Court Of Conspiring To Import Cocaine Into The United States And Related Firearms And False-Statements Offenses

Hernández Participated in the Importation of Almost 200,000 Kilograms of Cocaine, Used Heavily Armed Security including Members of the Honduran National Police, and Coordinated Two Drug-Related Murders

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Wendy C. Woolcock, the Special Agent in Charge of the Special Operations Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), announced today that a jury returned a guilty verdict against JUAN ANTONIO HERNÁNDEZ ALVARADO, a/k/a “Tony Hernández” (“HERNÁNDEZ”) on all four counts in the Superseding Indictment, which included cocaine-importation, weapons, and false-statements offenses.  HERNÁNDEZ is scheduled to be sentenced on January 17, 2020.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Former Honduran congressman Tony Hernandez was involved in all stages of the trafficking through Honduras of multi-ton loads of cocaine that were destined for the U.S.  Hernandez bribed law enforcement officials to protect drug shipments, solicited large bribes from major drug traffickers, and arranged machinegun-toting security for cocaine shipments.  Today, Hernandez stands convicted of his crimes and faces the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence.”

DEA Special Agent in Charge Wendy C. Woolcock said:  “This conviction serves as a warning to all those who traffic illegal drugs into our country with complete disregard for human life.  The United States will not tolerate any individual or organization that seeks to gain profit through violence and corruption.  The DEA will continue to stand with its partners to pursue justice regardless of social status.  No one is exempt from being held accountable for predatory criminal activity.”

As reflected in the Superseding Indictment and the evidence presented at trial:

HERNÁNDEZ is a former member of the National Congress of Honduras, the brother of the current President of Honduras, and a large-scale drug trafficker who worked with other drug traffickers in, among other places, Colombia, Honduras, and Mexico, to import cocaine into the United States.  From at least in or about 2004, up to and including in or about 2018, HERNÁNDEZ helped process, receive, transport, and distribute multi-ton loads of cocaine that arrived in Honduras via planes, helicopters, and go-fast vessels.  HERNÁNDEZ controlled cocaine laboratories in Honduras and Colombia, at which some of his cocaine was stamped with the symbol “TH,” i.e., “Tony Hernández.”  HERNÁNDEZ also coordinated and, at times, participated in providing heavily armed security for cocaine shipments transported within Honduras, including by members of the Honduran National Police and drug traffickers armed with machineguns and other weapons.  HERNÁNDEZ also used members of the Honduran National Police to coordinate the drug-related murder of Franklin Arita in 2011, and he used drug-trafficking associates to murder a drug worker known as “Chino” in 2013.  In connection with these activities, HERNÁNDEZ participated in the importation of almost 200,000 kilograms of cocaine into the United States. 

HERNÁNDEZ made millions of dollars through his cocaine trafficking, and he funneled millions of dollars of drug proceeds to National Party campaigns to impact Honduran presidential elections in 2009, 2013, and 2017.  Between 2010 and at least 2013, one of HERNÁNDEZ’s principal co-conspirators was former Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, a/k/a “Chapo.”  During that period, HERNÁNDEZ helped Guzmán Loera with numerous large cocaine shipments and delivered a $1 million bribe from Guzmán Loera to HERNÁNDEZ’s brother in connection with the 2013 national elections in Honduras.     

HERNÁNDEZ, 42, was convicted on four counts:  (1) conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, which carries a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years and a maximum prison term of life; (2) using and carrying machine guns during, and possessing machine guns in furtherance of, the cocaine-importation conspiracy, which carries a mandatory consecutive prison term of 30 years; (3) conspiring to use and carry machine guns during, and to possess machine guns in furtherance of, the cocaine-importation conspiracy, which carries a maximum prison term of life; and (4) making false statements to federal agents, which carries a maximum prison term of five years.

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding efforts of the DEA’s Special Operations Division Bilateral Investigations Unit, New York Strike Force, and Tegucigalpa Country Office, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda L. Houle, Jason A. Richman, Matthew J. Laroche, and Emil J. Bove III are in charge of the prosecution.

Source: Reuters/ BBC / USDOJ/ USDOJ

Reuters Reporting by: Sarah Kinosian; editing by Grant McCool


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