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Press Release

Juan Orlando Hernández, Former President of Honduras, Sentenced to 45 Years in Prison for Conspiring to Distribute More Than 400 Tons of Cocaine and Related Firearms Offenses

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs
Hernández Conspired with Some of the Largest Drug Traffickers in the World to Transport Tons of Cocaine through Honduras to the United States

The former president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, 55, also known as JOH, was sentenced today to 540 months in prison and 60 months of supervised release for cocaine importation and related weapons offenses. The former two-term president was in office until weeks before his extradition to the United States in April 2022. Hernández was convicted on March 8 following a three-week jury trial. 

“As President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández abused his power to support one of the largest and most violent drug trafficking conspiracies in the world, and the people of Honduras and the United States bore the consequences,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Thanks to the diligent work of the Justice Department’s agents and prosecutors, Hernández will now spend more than four decades in prison. The Justice Department will hold accountable all those who engage in violent drug trafficking, regardless of how powerful they are or what position they hold.”

“The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is relentlessly focused on dismantling drug trafficking organizations that threaten the safety and health of the American people,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández financed his political career with drug trafficking profits and abused his authority as President of Honduras to traffic hundreds of tons of cocaine to the United States. Let me be clear, political actors who use their power to traffic in drugs and corruption will be brought to justice in the United States.”

“As the former two-term president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández had every opportunity to affect positive change for his country," said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. "Instead, Hernández helped to facilitate the importation of an almost unfathomable 400 tons of cocaine to this country: billions of individual doses sent to the United States with the protection and support of the former president of Honduras. Now, after years of destructive narco-trafficking of the highest imaginable magnitude, Hernández will spend 45 years where he belongs: in federal prison.”

According to court documents, from at least in or about 2004, up to and including in or about 2022, Hernández, the former two-term president of Honduras and former president of the Honduran National Congress, was at the center of one of the largest and most violent drug-trafficking conspiracies in the world. During his political career, Hernández abused his powerful positions and authority in Honduras to facilitate the importation of over 400 tons of cocaine into the U.S. Hernández’s co-conspirators were armed with machine guns and destructive devices, including AK-47s, AR-15s, and grenade launchers, which they used to protect their massive cocaine loads as they transited across Honduras on their way to the United States, protect the money they made from the eventual sale of this cocaine, and guard their drug-trafficking territory from rivals. Hernández received millions of dollars of drug money from some of the largest and most violent drug-trafficking organizations in Honduras, Mexico, and elsewhere, and used those bribes to fuel his rise in Honduran politics. In turn, as Hernández rose to power in Honduras, he provided increased support and protection for his co-conspirators, allowing them to move mountains of cocaine, commit acts of violence and murder, and help turn Honduras into one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

During his time in office, Hernández publicly promoted legislation and the efforts he purported to undertake in support of anti-narcotics measures in Honduras. At the same time, he protected and enriched the drug traffickers in his inner circle and those who provided him with cocaine-fueled bribes that allowed him to obtain and stay in power in Honduras. For example, Hernández selectively upheld extraditions by supporting and taking credit for extraditions to the United States of certain drug traffickers who threatened his grip on power, while at the same time promising drug traffickers who bribed him and followed his instructions that they would remain safe in Honduras. In addition, Hernández and his co-conspirators abused Honduran institutions, including the Honduran National Police and Honduran military, to protect and grow their conspiracy. Among other things, members of the conspiracy used heavily armed Honduran National Police officers to protect their cocaine loads as they transited through Honduras towards the United States for eventual distribution. Members of the conspiracy also turned to violence and murder to protect and grow their drug trafficking enterprise, attacking and murdering rival traffickers and those who threatened their grip on the Honduran cocaine trade.

Several of Hernández’s co-conspirators have already been convicted and sentenced in connection with this investigation. Among others, Hernández’s brother, Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado, also known as Tony Hernández, was convicted after trial in October 2019 and sentenced to life in prison, and Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez, a violent cocaine trafficker who met with Hernández on multiple occasions to discuss their drug trafficking partnership, was convicted after trial in March 2021 and sentenced to life in prison. Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, also known as El Tigre, the former chief of the Honduran National Police, pleaded guilty to his participation in the cocaine importation conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 1, and Mauricio Hernández Pineda, a former member of the Honduran National Police and Hernández’s cousin, pleaded guilty to his participation in the cocaine importation conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 2.

In total, Hernández and his co-conspirators trafficked more than 400 tons of U.S.-bound cocaine through Honduras during Hernández’s tenure in the Honduran government. This amounts to well over approximately 4.5 billion individual doses of cocaine.

The DEA investigated the case.

The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided valuable assistance in securing Hernández’s arrest and extradition.

Trial Attorneys Andrea Broach and Jessica Fender of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob H. Gutwillig, David J. Robles, Elinor L. Tarlow, and Kyle A. Wirshba for the Southern District of New York prosecuted the case.

Updated June 26, 2024

Drug Trafficking
National Security
Press Release Number: 24-817