US court sentences Honduran president's brother to life in drug case

Juan Antonio ‘Tony’ Hernández was sentenced in Manhattan federal court and ordered to forfeit $138m

The brother of the Honduras president, Juan Orlando Hernández, has been sentenced by a US court to life in prison after he was convicted over what prosecutors described as “state-sponsored drug trafficking”.

Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, a former Honduran congressman, was sentenced in Manhattan federal court by US district judge P Kevin Castel, who also ordered him to forfeit $138m.

Hernández was convicted in October 2019 of charges that carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 40 years in prison.

Assistant US attorney Matthew Laroche told the judge that Hernández for 15 years fueled a flood of cocaine shipments into the United States by paying millions of dollars to top Honduran officials like his brother.

“[Tony Hernandez] conspired with his brother, the president of Honduras. He caused brutal acts of violence. He funneled drug money into National party campaigns in exchange for promises of protection … this is state sponsored drug trafficking,” Laroche said.

Hernández’s lawyer, Peter Brill, had argued for leniency, saying the US should focus anti-drug trafficking efforts on the voracious appetite of its citizens for drugs.

In court papers, prosecutors had argued for a life sentence, citing Tony Hernández’s criminal history.

His brother served as the leader of Honduras’ congress before assuming the presidency in January 2014.

“The defendant was a Honduran congressman who, along with his brother Juan Orlando Hernández, played a leadership role in a violent, state sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy,” prosecutors wrote in court papers.

“Over a 15-year period, the defendant corrupted the democratic institutions of Honduras to enrich himself by transporting at least 185,000kg of cocaine – a staggering amount of poison that he helped import into the United States,” prosecutors wrote. They say he also sold machine guns and ammunition to drug traffickers, some of which came from Honduras’ military, and controlled drug laboratories in Colombia and Honduras.

“Between 2004 and 2019, the defendant secured and distributed millions of dollars in drug-derived bribes to [his brother] Juan Orlando Hernández, former Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa and other politicians associated with Honduras’s National party,” prosecutors said.

They allege that among those bribes was $1m from notorious Mexican capo Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to Juan Orlando Hernández.

FBI special agent in charge Wendy C Woolcock said: “Exploiting a high-ranking position in government to wield the power of the state to support drug trafficking is as nefarious as it comes. 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 US drug laws by sending tons of cocaine to our country.”

Juan Orlando Hernández has repeatedly denied any ties to drug traffickers, as has Lobo, whose son is currently serving a 24-year drug trafficking sentence in the US.

In court on Tuesday, Tony Hernández looked pale and downcast. When the defendant was given a chance to speak, he tried to convince the judge that he’d been denied a fair trial due to an inadequate defence team who barely responded to his emails.

“I feel I have been lied to,” he said through a translator.

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