Manhattan Federal Jury Convicts Belizean Drug Trafficker With Ties to Colombian Terrorist Group for Threats to Kill U.S. Agents Abroad and Cocaine Importation
MAR 2 -- JOHN P. GILBRIDE, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Division of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”)and MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that ROBERT JAMES HERTULAR, a multi-ton cocaine trafficker who claimed ties to a Colombian terrorist group, was convicted by a jury on charges of threatening to kill Federal agents stationed in Belize, and conspiring to import ton-quantities of cocaine into the United States.
HERTULAR was convicted on all four counts of an indictment after a trial before the Honorable Naomi Reice Buchwald, United States District Judge. According to the evidence at trial, HERTULAR was first arrested in Belize in May 2001 after Belizean authorities seized a shipment of 1.1 tons of Colombian cocaine destined for the United States through Mexico. While criminal proceedings were pending in Belize, HERTULAR learned that DEA agents stationed there were investigating his cocaine-trafficking activities. HERTULAR approached the DEA in an effort to provide them with information in exchange for the DEA discontinuing its investigation. When the DEA agents refused, HERTULAR threatened that the organization he worked for would hire hit men from Colombia and Mexico to kill the agents. The evidence at trial also included testimony about HERTULAR threatening a Belizean law enforcement officer in 2001, and offering a hand grenade to another Belizean national to be used against DEA agents in April 2003. The other Belizean national turned out to be a DEA informant, who reported HERTULAR’s intentions to the U.S. Government.
During meetings with Belizean police and DEA agents in 2001, HERTULAR claimed a drug-trafficking association with notorious paramilitary leader and cocaine trafficker CARLOS CASTANO. (Before his disappearance and presumed murder in April 2004 this year, CASTANO was the head of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (“AUC”), a right-wing paramilitary group designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization.) HERTULAR also told Belizean officers that he had conducted four other cocaine shipments to the U.S. prior to his arrest in May 2001, each consisting of approximately 1.2 tons.
HERTULAR was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in January 2004, shortly after his threats against the DEA agents. On January 29, 2004, HERTULAR was arrested in Belize for extradition purposes, pursuant to a request by the U.S. State Department to the Belize Foreign Ministry. On July 22, 2004, after protracted litigation in the Belizean courts, a Belizean judge granted the United States’ request that HERTULAR be extradited to face the charges in the U.S. Indictment. HERTULAR was formally extradited on July 23, 2004, when he was flown to White Plains Airport in White Plains, New York in the custody of DEA agents.
HERTULAR is to be sentenced by Judge Buchwald on June 21, 2006. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, and a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years’ imprisonment.
Mr. GARCIA praised the outstanding investigative efforts of the DEA’s New York Drug Enforcement Task Force, its Belize Country Office, and its Mexico-Central America Division, as well as the Belize Police Department and the Belize Department of Public Prosecutions. Mr. GARCIA stated: “As law enforcement becomes an increasingly international effort, the safety of American agents stationed abroad is of paramount importance. As today’s conviction makes clear, this Office is committed to pursuing and bringing to justice those who threaten the lives of American agents, wherever their duties may take them.”
Assistant United States Attorneys JESSE FURMAN and ANIRUDH BANSAL are in charge of the prosecution.