July 12, 2016
Contact: Erin Mulvey
Phone Number: (212) 337-3900
Southern District Of New York U.S. Attorney Announces Arrests Of Five Honduran National Police For Drug Trafficking And Related Firearms Offenses
Five of the six Honduran police officers previously charged with conspiring with the son of the former president of Honduras to import cocaine into the United States are now in custody in Manhattan
NEW YORK - Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York along with James J. Hunt, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Division of the Drug Enforcement (DEA) announced five members of the Pólicia National de Honduras, i.e., the Honduran National Police, charged in a Superseding Indictment returned on June 29, 2016, have surrendered to face charges involving an alleged conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States and a related firearms offense. The five defendants, who arrived in the United States yesterday evening and will be presented and arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas later today in Manhattan federal court, are: Mario Guillermo Mejia Vargas, Juan Manuel Avila Meza, Carlos Jose Zavala Velasquez, Victor Oswaldo Lopez Flores, and Jorge Alfredo Cruz Chavez. Co-defendant Ludwig Criss Zelaya Romero remains at large.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Less than two weeks after we announced charges against six Honduran National Police Officers for engaging in a massive drug conspiracy, five of those officers are now in custody in Manhattan. For allegedly conspiring to move tons of cocaine from the Honduran jungles to American cities, these Honduran police officers will now face these charges in an American court of law.”
According to the allegations contained in the Superseding Indictment, other court filings, and statements made during court proceedings:
Between approximately 2004 and approximately 2014, multiple drug-trafficking organizations in Honduras and elsewhere worked together, and with support from the defendants and others, to receive multi hundred-kilogram loads of cocaine sent to Honduras from Venezuela and Colombia via air and maritime routes, and to transport the drugs westward in Honduras toward the border with Guatemala and eventually to the United States. For protection from official interference, and in order to facilitate the safe passage through Honduras of multi hundred-kilogram loads of cocaine, drug traffickers paid bribes to public officials - including certain members of the Pólicia National de Honduras - for access to information about ongoing investigations, military and law enforcement checkpoints, and planned narcotics interdictions. The Honduran government recently declared an “emergency situation” with respect to the Pólicia National de Honduras, and established a Special Commission with authority to investigate corruption and dismiss or suspend members of the National Police, among other sanctions. As of the filing of this Superseding Indictment, the Special Commission has sanctioned several members of the Pólicia National de Honduras.
The defendants were members of the Pólicia National de Honduras who participated in and supported the drug-trafficking activities of, among others, Fabio Porfirio Lobo, the son of former Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who pleaded guilty to a related drug-trafficking crime on May 16, 2016. In approximately early 2014, Lobo agreed to provide security and logistical support for the transportation through Honduras of a purported multi-ton load of cocaine that Lobo believed belonged to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel and would be imported into the United States. Lobo agreed to provide this assistance on the understanding that he would receive a financial stake in the cocaine worth over $1 million in profits. In or about June 2014, Lobo introduced two individuals he understood to be Mexican drug traffickers to the six defendants. During a meeting, the defendants displayed a map of Honduras and illustrated law enforcement checkpoints and a planned route for the cocaine. During the same meeting, the defendants each also agreed to accept a bribe in the amount of approximately $100,000, and to pay their subordinates a total of approximately $200,000 in additional bribes, in order to provide armed security for the cocaine as it transited Honduras before being imported into the United States.
Mejia Vargas, 46, Avila Meza, 45, Zavala Velasquez, 44, Lopez Flores, 43, And Cruz Chavez, 39, have each been charged with: (1) conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, (2) conspiring to use and carry firearms during and in relation to, and to possess firearms in furtherance of, the cocaine-importation conspiracy. If convicted, these defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum term of life in prison.
Lobo, who was arrested in the Republic of Haiti on May 20, 2015, and arrived in the United States on May 21, 2015, pleaded guilty before Judge Schofield on May 16, 2016, to conspiring to import cocaine into the United States. Lobo is scheduled to be sentenced on September 15, 2016, and faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum term of life in prison. The potential mandatory minimum and maximum sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the Special Operations Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the DEA’s New York Division Strike Force, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs for their ongoing assistance. This case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emil J. Bove III, Matthew J. Laroche and Michael D. Lockard are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges in the Superseding Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.