NEW YORK – Audrey Strauss, 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 JUAN ANTONIO HERNÁNDEZ ALVARADO, a/k/a “Tony Hernández” (“HERNÁNDEZ”) was sentenced to life in prison for cocaine-importation, weapons, and false-statements offenses. HERNÁNDEZ is a former Honduran congressman and the brother of Juan Orlando Hernández, the current president of Honduras. HERNÁNDEZ was convicted on October 18, 2019, following a jury trial before U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel, who also imposed today’s sentence.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “Former Honduran congressman Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado was involved in all stages of the trafficking through Honduras of multi-ton loads of cocaine destined for the U.S. Hernández bribed law enforcement officials to protect drug shipments, arranged for heavily armed security for cocaine shipments, and brokered large bribes from major drug traffickers to powerful political figures, including the former and current presidents of Honduras. Hernández was complicit in at least two murders. Today, Tony Hernández was rightly sentenced to life in prison.”
Special Agent in Charge Wendy C. Woolcock said: “Exploiting a high-ranking position in government to wield the power of the state to support drug trafficking is as nefarious as it comes. The conviction and sentencing of Tony Hernandez is a reminder there is no position powerful enough to shield you from facing justice when you violate U.S. drug laws by sending tons of cocaine to our country. As important as this conviction is to the people of the United States, it is also important to the citizens of Honduras who Hernandez purposely put in harm’s way for his own personal gain. Today’s sentencing is a victory for the rule of law and we are grateful to our federal and international partners who made this possible.”
As reflected in the Superseding Indictment, other filings in Manhattan federal court, evidence at trial, and statements made in court proceedings:
HERNÁNDEZ played a leadership role in a violent, state-sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy. Over a 15-year period, HERNÁNDEZ manufactured and distributed at least 185,000 kilograms of cocaine that was imported into the United States. HERNÁNDEZ commanded heavily armed members of the Honduran military and Honduran National Police; he sold machineguns and ammunition to drug traffickers, some of which he obtained from the Honduran military; he controlled cocaine laboratories in Colombia and Honduras; he secured millions of dollars of drug proceeds for Honduras’s National Party campaigns in connection with presidential elections in 2009, 2013, and 2017; and he helped cause at least two murders. HERNÁNDEZ made at least $138.5 million through his drug trafficking activities, money he was ordered to forfeit in connection with today’s sentencing.
Hernández’s Drug Trafficking Conduct
HERNÁNDEZ’s drug trafficking career started in about 2004 when he began providing sensitive law enforcement and military information to major Honduran drug traffickers Victor Hugo Diaz Morales, a/k/a “El Rojo,” and Hector Emilio Fernandez Rosa, a/k/a “Don H.” HERNÁNDEZ provided Diaz Morales with information about, among other things, operations of the Honduran Navy; efforts by the United States to train Honduran Air Force pilots to fly at night to conduct anti-narcotics operations; military radar capabilities so that cocaine plane shipments could avoid detection; and interdiction efforts by certain Honduran National Police officials. Over the course of their relationship, HERNÁNDEZ helped Fernandez Rosa and Diaz Morales distribute approximately 140,000 kilograms of cocaine.
By 2008, HERNÁNDEZ’s narcotics trafficking had expanded, and he was also manufacturing his own cocaine in a laboratory he controlled near El Aceitico, Colombia. HERNÁNDEZ told his co-conspirators that some of the cocaine manufactured at his laboratory was stamped with his initials “TH,” and a photograph of a kilogram of “TH” stamped cocaine was intercepted during the course of the investigation. HERNÁNDEZ supplied his co-conspirators with tons of cocaine that was produced at his laboratory.
Beginning in about 2008, HERNÁNDEZ partnered with Amilcar Alexander Ardon Soriano, a former Honduran drug trafficker and mayor, under the protection of members of the National Party leadership. Testimony at trial established that HERNÁNDEZ and Ardon Soriano secured protection from investigation, arrest, and extradition through massive bribes paid to high-ranking politicians, including, among others, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa and Juan Orlando Hernández. In connection with the 2009 national elections, drug proceed bribes paid in exchange for protection included: (i) Ardon Soriano paying $2 million to support Lobo Sosa’s campaign for presidency and Juan Orlando Hernández’s reelection campaign for a position in the Honduran congress; (ii) Diaz Morales paying $100,000 to HERNÁNDEZ to support National Party campaigns; and (iii) Ardon Soriano bribing three congressmen at the direction of Juan Orlando Hernández so that the congressmen would support Juan Orlando Hernández’s efforts to become president of the congress.
Juan Orlando Hernandez was named president of the congress in early 2010. HERNÁNDEZ, Ardon Soriano, and their co-conspirators, including co-defendant Mario Jose Calix Hernández, a Honduran deputy mayor, and codefendant Mauricio Hernández Pineda, a then-member of the Honduran National Police and HERNÁNDEZ’s cousin, took advantage of National Party protection to continue transporting huge quantities of cocaine. Once or twice a month in 2010, HERNÁNDEZ sent Ardon Soriano cocaine shipments consisting of approximately 300 kilograms; and once a month in 2011 and 2012, HERNÁNDEZ sent Ardon Soriano maritime cocaine shipments ranging in size from 700 to 1,600 kilograms.
In 2013, HERNÁNDEZ was campaigning to become a congressman and Juan Orlando Hernández was campaigning to become president. Around this time, according to testimony at trial, Juan Orlando Hernández solicited $1.6 million in drug proceeds from Ardon Soriano to support himself and National Party campaigns. Also during the 2013 campaign, HERNÁNDEZ accepted $1 million from former Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, a/k/a “Chapo,” to support Juan Orlando Hernández’s presidential campaign. During meetings with Chapo in Honduras, HERNÁNDEZ promised to provide protection for members of their conspiracy and their cocaine shipments through Honduran territory if Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president.
In November 2013, HERNÁNDEZ was elected to the Honduran congress and Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president. Between 2015 and 2017, per trial testimony, HERNÁNDEZ and Juan Orlando Hernández continued to secure large sums of drug proceeds for National Party campaigns in exchange for protecting drug traffickers. For example, there was testimony at trial that approximately six months before the November 2017 national elections, HERNÁNDEZ and Juan Orlando Hernández met with Ardon Soriano in Copán, Honduras. During that meeting, HERNÁNDEZ and Juan Orlando Hernández solicited $500,000 and 1.6 million Lempira in drug proceeds from Ardon Soriano to “finance” the National Party’s campaign in the Copán and Lempira Departments.
In 2018, HERNÁNDEZ continued to engage in large cocaine shipments with Nery López Sanabria, another significant Honduran drug trafficker. Honduran authorities arrested and detained López Sanabria in connection with a traffic incident and recovered, among other things, several drug ledgers in a secret compartment of his car. One of the ledgers was labeled “Hard Work” 2018, and reflected a 650-kilogram cocaine shipment with HERNÁNDEZ. At least one of the other ledgers seized by Honduran law enforcement in 2018 contained references to “JOH,” initials used by Juan Orlando Hernández. López Sanabria was murdered in a Honduran prison, as described below, shortly after his drug ledgers were introduced at HERNÁNDEZ’s trial.
Hernández’s Weapons Possession and Acts of Violence
HERNÁNDEZ used firearms throughout his drug trafficking. HERNÁNDEZ’s personal weapons included a modified AR-15, an Uzi inscribed with the name of Juan Orlando Hernández, “Presidente de la República,” and an M60 belt-fed machinegun. HERNÁNDEZ also sold machineguns and ammunition to drug traffickers. In 2010, Diaz Morales obtained between 4,000 and 6,000 rounds of assault rifle ammunition from a member of the Honduran National Police who told Diaz Morales he obtained the ammunition from HERNÁNDEZ. In 2012, HERNÁNDEZ supplied 40 M16s to another drug trafficker.
HERNÁNDEZ also coordinated at least two drug-related murders. In 2011, HERNÁNDEZ and Ardon Soriano caused the murder of a rival drug trafficker named Franklin Arita in the Copán Department. HERNÁNDEZ directed Juan Carlos “Tigre” Bonilla Valladares, the regional Honduran National Police chief responsible for the Copán Department at the time, to arrange for Arita’s murder, which was executed by assassins using two 40-millimeter grenade launchers, M16s, and Israeli-made Galil assault rifles. In 2013, HERNÁNDEZ worked with other drug traffickers, including Ardon Soriano, to murder a drug trafficker named Chino because HERNÁNDEZ was concerned that Chino might cooperate with law enforcement.
Hernández’s Obstruction and Other Efforts to Influence the Investigation
HERNÁNDEZ made false statements to law enforcement and the Court during the course of this investigation and prosecution, and he obstructed justice. HERNÁNDEZ (i) traveled to the United States in 2016 and made false statements to law enforcement about his drug trafficking activities; (ii) made false statements about his assets during a January 2019 bail hearing; (iii) caused sensitive witness information to be disclosed in Honduras in violation of a protective order in October 2019; and (iv) made false statements about his assets during an application for appointed counsel in February 2020.
Eight days after the jury found HERNÁNDEZ guilty, on October 26, 2019, López Sanabria – the drug trafficker from whom were seized the ledgers bearing HERNÁNDEZ’s name and Juan Orlando Hernández’s initials – was murdered at a maximum security prison in Honduras. López Sanabria’s attorneys confirmed to the media that: one of HERNÁNDEZ’s family members and an investigator hired by HERNÁNDEZ’s family had made unauthorized visits to López Sanabria prior to HERNÁNDEZ’s trial; López Sanabria had rejected their efforts to obtain information about whether he was cooperating with the DEA; and López Sanabria had planned to cooperate with the DEA against Juan Orlando Hernández and HERNÁNDEZ. Leaked surveillance video of the murder shows López Sanabria talking to the warden of the facility, Pedro Ildefonso Armas, while a masked man walks past and unlocks a nearby door. Several individuals who are believed to be prisoners then storm through the door and shoot and stab López Sanabria to death. On December 9, 2019, a group of unknown assailants murdered Jose Luis Pinto, a lawyer who represented López Sanabria. Three days later, on December 12, 2019, a group of unknown gunmen on motorcycles murdered Ildefenso Armas, the warden of the facility in which López Sanabria was murdered, in Tegucigalpa.
On August 8, 2019, Fernandez Rosa was sentenced in this District to life in prison for, among other things, his participation in HERNÁNDEZ’s cocaine importation conspiracy and for committing 18 murders. Several of HERNÁNDEZ’s other co-conspirators, including, among others, Hernández Pineda, Calix Hernández, Bonilla Valladares, Arnaldo Urbina Soto, Carlos Fernando Urbina Soto, and Miguel Angel Urbina Soto, are also charged in this District with firearms and drug trafficking offenses based on, among other things, their participation in HERNÁNDEZ’s cocaine importation conspiracy. On February 12, 2020, Hernández Pineda surrendered in this District and he is awaiting trial. On March 22, 2021, HERNÁNDEZ’s co defendant and co-conspirator Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez was convicted at trial in this District of drug trafficking and weapons offenses. Fuentes Ramirez’s sentencing is scheduled for June 22, 2021.
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In addition to the prison term, HERNÁNDEZ, 42, was sentenced to five years of supervised release.
Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding efforts of the DEA’s Special Operations Division Bilateral Investigations Unit, OCDETF New York Strike Force, and Tegucigalpa Country Office, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.
This effort is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda L. Houle, Matthew Laroche, and Jason A. Richman are in charge of the prosecution