Former Honduran National Police Officer Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison for Conspiring to Import Cocaine into the United States
NEW YORK – DEA Special Operation Division Special Agent in Charge Wendy C. Woolcock and United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss announced today that Juan Manuel Avila Meza, a former member of the Honduran National Police, was sentenced today to 12 years in prison for conspiring to import cocaine into the United States. Avila Meza previously pled guilty before U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield, who imposed today’s sentence.
“Juan Manuel Avila Meza leveraged his position in law enforcement and as an attorney to attempt to rise above the law, profiting from the reprehensible criminal activities he helped facilitate,” said Special Agent in Charge Woolcock. “Today’s sentencing reaffirms that corruption in law enforcement will never go unchecked by the United States. The Drug Enforcement Administration, alongside our domestic and international partners, will continue working tirelessly to bring to justice all those who participate in drug trafficking.”
“Juan Manuel Avila Meza conspired to transport large shipments of cocaine into, within, and out of Honduras, including shipments bound for the U.S.,” said U.S. Attorney Strauss. “He provided sensitive law enforcement information to members of the Cachiros to enable their trafficking operations, and he brokered meetings with other corrupt officials to facilitate money laundering and cocaine trafficking. Juan Manuel Avila Meza tarnished the badge he wore by protecting drug traffickers rather than those he took an oath to protect and serve.”
According to the indictment, other court filings, and statements made during court proceedings, between at least approximately 2004 and 2014, Avila Meza worked with members of a drug trafficking organization known as the Cachiros, which was a prolific and violent criminal syndicate that relied on connections to politicians, military personnel, and law enforcement to transport cocaine to, within, and from Honduras. During that time, and while Avila Meza was purportedly enforcing the law as a police officer and, later, an attorney, Avila Meza participated in the Cachiros’ criminal enterprise by engaging in drug trafficking, money laundering, sanctions evasion, and debt collection.
Beginning in about 2004, Avila Meza provided the Cachiros with sensitive law enforcement information to facilitate the transportation of cocaine. Avila Meza also assisted the Cachiros with money laundering and evasion of U.S. sanctions. In May 2013, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control publicly identified the Cachiros as a significant foreign narcotics group pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. Nevertheless, beginning in August 2013, the defendant – as an active member of both the Honduran National Police and the Cachiros – assisted the Cachiros with an asset-based money laundering transaction related to a large piece of real estate in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
In February 2014, Avila Meza helped set up and attended a meeting between one of the leaders of the Cachiros and Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado, aka “Tony Hernández,” another convicted major drug trafficker who is the brother of current Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández, to discuss money laundering transactions between a Cachiros front company and the Honduran government. In June 2014, Avila Meza met with six other members of the Honduran National Police, Fabio Lobo Sosa, the now-convicted son of Porfirio Lobo Sosa, the Honduran president who preceded Juan Orlando Hernández, and two DEA confidential sources purporting to be members of the Sinaloa Cartel. During the meeting, Avila Meza led a discussion of how best to rely on the Honduran National Police to secure safe passage for a large cocaine shipment.
Six other former members of the Honduran National Police, including, among others, Victor Oswaldo Lopez Flores, Ludwig Criss Zelaya Romero, Carlos Jose Zavala Velasquez, and Carlos Alberto Valladares Garcia, were convicted in this case of firearms and/or drug trafficking offenses for conspiring to import cocaine into the United States. Each of those individuals has pled guilty in federal court, along with co-conspirator Fabio Lobo. On September 5, 2017, Lobo was sentenced to 24 years in prison; on February 6, 2018, Flores was sentenced to five years in prison; on June 27, 2018, Velasquez was sentenced to 12 years in prison; and on September 27, 2018, Garcia was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Zelaya Romero is awaiting sentencing by Judge Schofield. On October 18, 2019, Hernández Alvarado was convicted at a trial before the Honorable P. Kevin Castel of cocaine importation, weapons, and false statements offenses, and he is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Castel tomorrow.
In addition to the prison term, Avila Meza, 50, was sentenced to four years of supervised release.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jacob Gutwillig, Matthew Laroche, Jason A. Richman, and Elinor Tarlow are in charge of the prosecution.
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