US court sentences Honduran president’s brother to life in prison
WASHINGTON, DC – Juan Antonio Hernandez Alvarado, aka “Tony Hernandez,” 42, was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday for cocaine-importation, weapons, and false-statements offenses and ordered to pay $138.5 million. Tony Hernandez is a former Honduran congressman and the brother of Juan Orlando Hernandez, the current president of Honduras. Tony Hernandez was convicted on Oct. 18, 2019, following a jury trial before U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel, who also imposed today’s sentence.
“Exploiting a high-ranking position in government to wield the power of the state to support drug trafficking is as nefarious as it comes,” said Special Agent in Charge Wendy C. Woolcock. “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.”
“Former Honduran congressman Juan Antonio Hernandez Alvarado was involved in all stages of the trafficking through Honduras of multi-ton loads of cocaine destined for the U.S.,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss. “Hernandez 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. Hernandez was complicit in at least two murders. Today, Tony Hernandez was rightly sentenced to life in prison.”
As reflected in the superseding indictment, other filings in Manhattan federal court, evidence at trial, and statements made in court proceedings:
Tony Hernandez, along with his brother Juan Orlando Hernandez, played a leadership role in a violent, state-sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy. Over a 15-year period, Tony Hernandez manufactured and distributed at least 185,000 kilograms of cocaine that was imported into the United States. Tony Hernandez commanded heavily armed members of the Honduran military and Honduran National Police; he sold machine guns 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. Tony Hernandez made at least $138.5 million through his drug trafficking activities, money he was ordered to forfeit in connection with today’s sentencing.
Hernandez’s Drug Trafficking Conduct
Tony Hernandez’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, aka “El Rojo,” and Hector Emilio Fernandez Rosa, aka “Don H.” Tony Hernandez 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, Tony Hernandez helped Fernandez Rosa and Diaz Morales distribute approximately 140,000 kilograms of cocaine.
By 2008, Tony Hernandez’s narcotics trafficking had expanded, and he was also manufacturing his own cocaine in a laboratory he controlled near El Aceitico, Colombia. Tony Hernandez 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. Tony Hernandez supplied his co-conspirators with tons of cocaine that was produced at his laboratory.
Beginning in about 2008, Tony Hernandez partnered with Amilcar Alexander Ardon Soriano, a former Honduran drug trafficker and mayor, under the protection of National Party leadership. Tony Hernandez 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 Hernandez. 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 Hernandez’s reelection campaign for a position in the Honduran congress; (ii) Diaz Morales paying $100,000 to Tony Hernandez to support National Party campaigns; and (iii) Ardon Soriano bribing three congressmen at the direction of Juan Orlando Hernandez so that the congressmen would support Juan Orlando Hernandez’s efforts to become president of the congress.
Juan Orlando Hernandez was named president of the congress in early 2010. Tony Hernandez, Ardon Soriano, and their co-conspirators, including co-defendant Mario Jose Calix Hernandez, a Honduran deputy mayor, and co-defendant Mauricio Hernandez Pineda, a then-member of the Honduran National Police and Tony Hernandez’s cousin, took advantage of National Party protection to continue transporting huge quantities of cocaine. Once or twice a month in 2010, Tony Hernandez sent Ardon Soriano cocaine shipments consisting of approximately 300 kilograms; and once a month in 2011 and 2012, Tony Hernandez sent Ardon Soriano maritime cocaine shipments ranging in size from 700 to 1,600 kilograms.
In 2013, Tony Hernandez was campaigning to become a congressman and Juan Orlando Hernandez was campaigning to become president. Around this time, Juan Orlando Hernandez solicited $1.6 million in drug proceeds from Ardon Soriano to support himself and National Party campaigns. Also during the 2013 campaign, Tony Hernandez accepted $1 million from former Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, aka “Chapo,” to support Juan Orlando Hernandez’s presidential campaign. During meetings with Chapo in Honduras, Tony Hernandez promised to provide protection for members of their conspiracy and their cocaine shipments through Honduran territory if Juan Orlando Hernandez was elected president.
In November 2013, Tony Hernandez was elected to the Honduran congress and Juan Orlando Hernandez was elected president. Between 2015 and 2017, Tony Hernandez and Juan Orlando Hernandez continued to secure large sums of drug proceeds for National Party campaigns in exchange for protecting drug traffickers. For example, approximately six months before the November 2017 national elections, Tony Hernandez and Juan Orlando Hernandez met with Ardon Soriano in Copán, Honduras. During that meeting, Tony Hernandez and Juan Orlando Hernandez solicited $500,000 and 1.6 million Lempira (Honduran currency) in drug proceeds from Ardon Soriano to “finance” the National Party’s campaign in the Copán and Lempira Departments.
In 2018, Tony Hernandez 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 Tony Hernandez. At least one of the other ledgers seized by Honduran law enforcement in 2018 contained references to “JOH,” initials used by Juan Orlando Hernandez. López Sanabria was murdered in a Honduran prison, as described below, shortly after his drug ledgers were introduced at Tony Hernandez’s trial.
Tony Hernandez’s Weapons Possession and Acts of Violence
Tony Hernandez used firearms throughout his drug trafficking. Tony Hernandez’s personal weapons included a modified AR-15, an Uzi inscribed with the name of Juan Orlando Hernandez, “Presidente de la República,” and an M60 belt-fed machine gun. Tony Hernandez also sold machine guns 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 Tony Hernandez. In 2012, Tony Hernandez supplied 40 M16s to another drug trafficker.
Tony Hernandez also coordinated at least two drug-related murders. In 2011, Tony Hernandez and Ardon Soriano caused the murder of a rival drug trafficker named Franklin Arita in the Copán Department. Tony Hernandez 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, Tony Hernandez worked with other drug traffickers, including Ardon Soriano, to murder a drug trafficker named Chino because Tony Hernandez was concerned that Chino might cooperate with law enforcement.
Tony Hernandez’s Obstruction and Other Efforts to Influence the Investigation
Tony Hernandez made false statements to law enforcement and the court during the course of this investigation and prosecution, and he obstructed justice. Tony Hernandez (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 Tony Hernandez guilty, on Oct. 26, 2019, López Sanabria – the drug trafficker from whom were seized the ledgers bearing Tony Hernandez’s name and Juan Orlando Hernandez’s initials – was murdered at a maximum security prison in Honduras. López Sanabria’s attorneys confirmed to the media that one of Tony Hernandez’s family members and an investigator hired by Tony Hernandez’s family had made unauthorized visits to López Sanabria prior to Tony Hernandez’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 Hernandez and Tony Hernandez. 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 Dec. 9, 2019, a group of unknown assailants murdered Jose Luis Pinto, a lawyer who represented López Sanabria. Three days later, on Dec. 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.
Tony Hernandez’s Co-Conspirators
On Aug. 8, 2019, Fernandez Rosa was sentenced in this district to life in prison for, among other things, his participation in Tony Hernandez’s cocaine importation conspiracy and for committing 18 murders. Several of Tony Hernandez’s other co-conspirators, including, among others, Hernandez Pineda, Calix Hernandez, 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 Tony Hernandez’s cocaine importation conspiracy. On Feb. 12, 2020, Hernandez Pineda surrendered in this district and he is awaiting trial. The government of Honduras has not extradited Calix Hernandez, Bonilla Valladares, or the Urbina Sotos. On March 22, 2021, Tony Hernandez’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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