Drug Enforcement Administration

New York

Raymond P. Donovan, Special Agent in Charge

October 08, 2014

Contact: Erin Mulvey

Phone Number: (212) 337-2906

Man Sentenced In Manhattan Federal Court To Two Consecutive Life Terms For February 2000 Double Murder In The Bronx

MANHATTAN - Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that Joe Fernandez was sentenced yesterday in Manhattan federal court to two consecutive terms of life in prison by U.S District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein.  Fernandez was found guilty on March 7, 2013, following a three-week jury trial, of conspiring to commit a murder-for-hire and using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, with death resulting.  Fernandez was convicted for his role in the murders of Arturo (“Cuellar”) and Ildefonso Vivero (“Flores”) in the Bronx on February 22, 2000. 

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Joe Fernandez was convicted last year of a ruthless double murder he committed nearly 15 years ago.  For $40,000 he ambushed two men and shot them multiple times at close range.  Today he learned the price for his wanton disregard for human life.  He will spend the rest of his life in prison.”

According to the evidence presented at trial, statements made during other court proceedings including today’s sentencing, and other court documents:

In late 1999 and early 2000, a drug trafficking organization in New York (the “New York DTO”) was receiving large quantities of cocaine from a Mexican drug trafficking (the “Mexican DTO”).  In or about February 2000, Cuellar and Flores, two representatives of the Mexican DTO, coordinated the delivery of approximately 274 kilograms of cocaine to the New York DTO.  The cocaine was distributed to members of the New York DTO, who sold the drugs on the street, while Cuellar and Flores remained in New York City waiting to receive payment for the drugs. 

Instead of paying Cuellar and Flores, however, members of the New York DTO conspired to murder Cuellar and Flores and keep the drug proceeds.  On February 21, 2000, members of the New York DTO hired a hitman, co-defendant Patrick (“Darge”), to kill Cuellar and Flores the next day.  That same evening, Darge hired Fernandez to serve as his backup during the murders in the event something went wrong.  Darge agreed to pay Fernandez $40,000 for this role as a backup during the murders.

On February 22, 2000, Cuellar and Flores were escorted to an apartment building at 3235 Parkside Place in the Bronx, under the ruse that they would be receiving payment for the cocaine at an apartment in that building.  Darge and Fernandez, both armed with firearms, were waiting in the lobby of that building for Cuellar and Flores to arrive.  Upon Cuellar and Flores’s entrance into the lobby of 3235 Parkside Place, Darge approached Cuellar from behind and fired a gunshot into Cuellar’s skull.  Darge’s gun jammed after that shot, at which point Fernandez fired fourteen gunshots, nine of which connected into the bodies of Cuellar and Flores.  Cuellar and Flores died as a result of their gunshot wounds.

As negotiated, Darge paid Fernandez $40,000 for his role in the February 22, 2000, murders.

Fernandez, 38, was convicted of one count of participating in a murder-for-hire conspiracy, with death resulting, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1958, and one count of using a firearm arm in furtherance of a crime of violence, causing death, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 924(j).  In addition to the two consecutive prison terms of life, Fernandez was ordered to pay a $200 special assessment fee.

The investigation was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York Drug Enforcement Task (the “Task Force”) comprising agents and officers of the DEA, New York City Police (“NYPD”) and New York State (NYSP).  Mr. Bharara thanked the Task Force for their work in the investigation.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Violent and Organized Crimes Unit and Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Todd Blanche, John P. Cronan, and Russell Capone are in charge of the prosecution.

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