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Juan Orlando Hernández, Former President of Honduras, Convicted in Manhattan Federal Court of Conspiring to Import Cocaine into the United States and Related Firearms Offenses

Hernández Conspired with Some of the Largest Drug Traffickers in the World to Transport Tons of Cocaine through Honduras to the United States

A federal jury convicted Juan Orlando Hernández, also known as JOH, 55, of Honduras, on all three counts in the indictment, which included cocaine-importation and weapons offenses. Hernández is scheduled to be sentenced on June 26.

“Juan Orlando Hernández abused his position as President of Honduras to operate the country as a narco-state where violent drug traffickers were allowed to operate with virtual impunity, and the people of Honduras and the United States were forced to suffer the consequences,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “As today’s conviction demonstrates, the Justice Department is disrupting the entire ecosystem of drug trafficking networks that harm the American people, no matter how far or how high we must go.”

“When the leader of Honduras and the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel work hand-in-hand to send deadly drugs into American communities, both deserve to be held accountable in the United States,” said Administrator Anne Milgram of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). “This case should send a clear message that no one is above the law or beyond our reach.”

“Juan Orlando Hernández had every opportunity to be a force for good in his native Honduras. Instead, he chose to abuse his office and country for his own personal gain and partnered with some of the largest and most violent drug trafficking organizations in the world to transport tons of cocaine to the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “It is my sincere hope that this conviction sends a message to all corrupt politicians who would consider a similar path: choose differently. My office will stop at nothing to investigate and prosecute those responsible for sending poison to this community, no matter their status or political power.”

According to court documents, from at least in or about 2004, up to and including in or about 2022, Hernández, the former two-term president of Honduras and former president of the Honduran National Congress, was at the center of one of the largest and most violent drug-trafficking conspiracies in the world. Hernández abused his position and authority in Honduras to facilitate the importation of tons of cocaine into the United States. In exchange, Hernández received millions of dollars in drug money from some of the largest and most violent drug-trafficking organizations in Honduras, Mexico, and elsewhere, and used those bribes to fuel his rise in Honduran politics.

Throughout his time in office, Hernández publicly promoted legislation and the efforts he purported to undertake in support of anti-narcotics measures in Honduras. At the same time, he protected and enriched the drug traffickers in his inner circle and those who provided him with cocaine-fueled bribes that allowed him to obtain and stay in power in Honduras. For example, Hernández selectively upheld extraditions by using his executive power to support extraditions to the United States of certain drug traffickers who threatened his grip on power, and promising drug traffickers who paid him and followed his instructions that they would remain in Honduras. In addition, Hernández and his co-conspirators abused Honduran institutions, including the Honduran National Police and Honduran Army, to protect and grow their conspiracy. Among other things, members of the conspiracy used heavily armed Honduran National Police officers to protect their cocaine loads as they transited through Honduras. Members of the conspiracy also turned to violence and murder to protect and grow their drug trafficking enterprise, attacking and murdering rival traffickers and those who threatened their grip on the Honduran cocaine trade.   

Several of Hernández’s co-conspirators have already been convicted and sentenced in connection with this investigation. Among others, Hernández’s brother, Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado, also known as Tony Hernández, was convicted after trial in October 2019 and sentenced to life in prison, and Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez, a violent cocaine trafficker who met with Hernández on multiple occasions to discuss their drug trafficking partnership, was convicted after trial in March 2021, and sentenced to life in prison. More recently, Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, also known as El Tigre, the former chief of the Honduran National Police, pleaded guilty to his participation in the cocaine importation conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 25, and Mauricio Hernández Pineda, a former member of the Honduran National Police and Hernández’s cousin, pleaded guilty to his participation in the cocaine importation conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 2.

In total, Hernández and his co-conspirators trafficked over more than 400 tons of U.S.-bound cocaine through Honduras during Hernández’s tenure in the Honduran government.

Hernández was convicted of three counts: (i) conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison; (ii) using and carrying machineguns and destructive devices during, and possessing machineguns in furtherance of, the cocaine-importation conspiracy, which carries a mandatory consecutive prison term of 30 years; and (iii) conspiring to use and carry machineguns and destructive devices during, and possessing machineguns in furtherance of, the cocaine-importation conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The DEA’s Special Operations Division Bilateral Investigations Unit, Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) New York Strike Force, and Tegucigalpa Country Office are investigating the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided valuable assistance in securing his arrest and extradition. The Justice Department thanked the Government of Honduras for extraditing Hernández to the United States.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jacob H. Gutwillig, David J. Robles, Elinor L. Tarlow, and Kyle A. Wirshba for the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case, with assistance from Paralegal Specialist Kayla A. Collins and Trial Attorneys Andrea Broach and Jessica Fender of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

Friday, March 8, 2024 Office of Public Affairs U.S. Department of Justice 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington DC 20530

Source: justice.govMidtown Tribune news

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