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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, July 16, 2015

Former U.S. Soldier Sentenced In Manhattan Federal Court To 20 Years In Prison For Conspiring To Murder A DEA Agent And A DEA Informant, To Import Cocaine, And To Possess A Firearm

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, today announced that TIMOTHY VAMVAKIAS, a former member of the U.S. Army, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his participation in a conspiracy to murder a Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) agent and a confidential informant working at the direction of the DEA, a conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States, and a conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of the murder conspiracy.  VAMVAKIAS was arrested in September 2013 along with co-defendants Joseph Hunter, Dennis Gogel, Slawomir Soborski, and Michael Filter following a long-term DEA undercover investigation.  VAMVAKIAS pled guilty on January 9, 2015, before U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain, who imposed the sentence.   

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said:  “Timothy Vamvakias’s callous disregard for human life made him an ideal member of an international mercenary team that conspired in an elaborate and diabolical scheme to murder a DEA agent and an informant.  Vamvakias went from serving his country in the military to serving the interests of drug lords and contract killers.  Thanks to the investigative efforts of the DEA, Vamvakias’s descent into the criminal underworld has been put to an end.”

According to the Indictment filed against VAMVAKIAS, Hunter, Gogel, Soborski, and Filter, and other documents filed in Manhattan federal court:

All five defendants have previously served in the armed forces of their respective nations. VAMVAKIAS served in the U.S. Army between approximately 1991 and 2004; Gogel served in the German armed forces until 2010; Hunter served in the U.S. Army between approximately 1983 and 2004; Filter served in the German armed forces until 2009; and Soborski served in the Polish armed forces until 2011.  VAMVAKIAS attained the rank of sergeant and served both as infantryman and a military police officer.  Gogel was trained as a sniper.  Hunter served as a sniper instructor and a senior drill sergeant, training other soldiers in marksmanship and tactics; and Soborski and Filter were also trained as snipers.

In 2013, VAMVAKIAS was recruited by Hunter to serve as security for a Colombian drug trafficking organization and to perform contract killings.  Hunter recruited VAMVAKIAS based on their prior experiences working together for a transnational criminal organization.  During meetings in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, beginning in January 2013 and continuing through late September 2013, Hunter communicated with three confidential sources (the “CSs”) working with the DEA, who purported to be Colombian narcotics traffickers.  Hunter agreed to serve as the head of security for the CSs’ purported narcotics trafficking organization and assembled a “security team” consisting of VAMVAKIAS, Gogel, Filter, and Soborski.  Hunter also told the CSs that he had previously been involved in contract killings – referred to as “bonus jobs” – and that some team members wanted to do as much “bonus work” as possible.

Hunter and his co-defendants thereafter agreed, in meetings and communications with the CSs, to provide security and surveillance services to the narcotics trafficking organization.  Furthermore, VAMVAKIS, Gogel, and Hunter agreed to commit murder-for-hire in Liberia by assassinating both a Special Agent of the DEA and a person who, according to the CSs, was providing information to the DEA about the CSs’ narcotics trafficking organization.  In exchange for the murders, VAMVAKIAS and Gogel were together to be paid approximately $700,000, and Hunter was to receive an additional $100,000 for his leadership role.  Communications between the defendants and the CSs occurred by telephone, over email, and in a series of surreptitiously audio-recorded and videotaped meetings over a nine-month period.

In late June 2013, VAMVAKIAS, Gogel, Filter, and Soborski conducted surveillance of a purported U.S.-registered aircraft at the direction of the third CS (“CS-3”), who posed as a member of the CSs’ narcotics trafficking organization.  CS-3 informed the defendants that the aircraft was to be loaded with 300 kilograms of cocaine to be shipped to New York.

With respect to the murder-for-hire scheme, in mid-May 2013, at a meeting with the CSs in Thailand, VAMVAKIAS, Gogel, Hunter, and Soborski were told that a “bonus job” – that is, a contract killing – was in the offing, due to a leak within the CSs’ narcotics trafficking organization.  In late May 2013, in email communications, Hunter confirmed that his team would be willing to murder both a U.S. law enforcement agent and an informant (a boat captain) who was providing information to U.S. law enforcement authorities.  Hunter confirmed by email that his team would kill both the DEA agent and the informant who was providing information to law enforcement about the CSs’ narcotics trafficking organization.  At a meeting in late June 2013, CS-3 explained to VAMVAKIAS and Gogel that “the job is to kill a U.S. DEA agent and a source with the DEA,” who would be located in Liberia.  VAMVAKIAS and Gogel discussed the weapons that could be used and masks to be worn for the murders, and VAMVAKIAS stated that it would be better to “hit the agent first” and then “the snitch.”  In early July 2013, Hunter sent via email a list of the items needed for the murders, including “[t]wo Submachine Guns with silencers . . .[t]wo .22 pistols with Silencers.”

In mid-August 2013, at a meeting in Thailand, VAMVAKIS, Gogel, and Hunter discussed in detail the weapons that would be used and the possibility of entering Liberia without having their passports stamped.  They suggested that CS-3 fly them out of the country via private plane following the murders.  VAMVAKIAS stated that among other weapons, a sub-machine gun and two .22 caliber pistols would be needed for the murders, and CS-3 agreed to deliver the weapons to Liberia.  The next day, at a meeting with Gogel, CS-3 confirmed that an order for the requested weapons had been made.  Later that same day, Gogel met again with CS-3 and provided CS-3 with two highly sophisticated latex facemasks, which can make the wearer appear to be of another race, for CS-3 to transport to Liberia. 

In late September 2013, VAMVAKIAS and Gogel arrived in Liberia to commit the planned murders-for-hire.

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In addition to prison, VAMVAKIAS, 43, was sentenced to five years of supervised release.

The remaining defendants, Hunter, 50, Gogel, 29, Soborski, 43, and Filter, 30, each pled guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States.  Hunter and Gogel also pled guilty to conspiracy to murder a law enforcement agent and a person assisting a law enforcement agent; and conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.  Each defendant faces a maximum possible term of life in prison.  The maximum potential sentences faced by these remaining defendants are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of these defendants will be determined by the judge.

Soborski is scheduled to be sentenced on July 29, 2015; Gogel is scheduled to be sentenced on August 4, 2015; Hunter is scheduled to be sentenced on August 5, 2015; and Filter is scheduled to be sentenced on September 9, 2015.  Each of the defendants will be sentenced by Judge Swain.

The prosecution was the result of the close cooperative efforts of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York; DEA’s Special Operations Division; DEA’s  Bangkok, Ghana, Pretoria, Bucharest, Manila, Nassau and Copenhagen Offices; the Royal Thai Police Narcotics Suppression Bureau and Crime Suppression Divisionthe Royal Thai Immigration; the Royal Thai Attorney General’s Office; Republic of Liberia’s National Security Agency; the Republic of Liberia’s Attorney General’s Office; the Estonian Police and Border Guard; the Estonian National Criminal Police, Investigative Bureau; the Estonian State Prosecutors Office; the Romanian National Police; Interpol; and the U.S. Department of Justice Office of International Affairs.

This prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Lockard, Anna Skotko, Aimee Hector, and Emil Bove are in charge of the prosecution.

Press Release Number: 
15-182
Updated July 16, 2015