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Press Release

Juan Orlando Hernandez, Former President Of Honduras, Convicted In Manhattan Federal Court Of Conspiring To Import Cocaine Into The United States And Related Firearms Offenses

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York
Hernandez Conspired with Some of the Largest Drug Traffickers in the World to Transport Tons of Cocaine through Honduras to the United States

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York; Merrick B. Garland, the Attorney General of the United States; and Anne Milgram, the Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), announced today that a jury returned a guilty verdict against JUAN ORLANDO HERNANDEZ, a/k/a “JOH,” on all three counts in the Indictment, which included cocaine-importation and weapons offenses.  U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel presided over the trial.  HERNANDEZ is scheduled to be sentenced on June 26, 2024.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Juan Orlando Hernandez had every opportunity to be a force for good in his native Honduras.  Instead, he chose to abuse his office and country for his own personal gain and partnered with some of the largest and most violent drug trafficking organizations in the world to transport tons of cocaine to the United States.  It is my sincere hope that this conviction sends a message to all corrupt politicians who would consider a similar path: choose differently.  My Office will stop at nothing to investigate and prosecute those responsible for sending poison to this community, no matter their status or political power.”

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said: “Juan Orlando Hernandez abused his position as President of Honduras to operate the country as a narco-state where violent drug traffickers were allowed to operate with virtual impunity, and the people of Honduras and the United States were forced to suffer the consequences.  As today’s conviction demonstrates, the Justice Department is disrupting the entire ecosystem of drug trafficking networks that harm the American people, no matter how far or how high we must go.”

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said: “When the leader of Honduras and the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel work hand-in-hand to send deadly drugs into American communities, both deserve to be held accountable in the United States.  This case should send a clear message that no one is above the law or beyond our reach.”

As reflected in the Indictment and the evidence presented at trial:

From at least in or about 2004, up to and including in or about 2022, HERNANDEZ, 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.  HERNANDEZ abused his position and authority in Honduras to facilitate the importation of tons of cocaine into the United States.  In exchange, HERNANDEZ received millions of dollars in 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.

Throughout his time in office, HERNANDEZ 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, HERNANDEZ selectively upheld extraditions by using his executive power to support extraditions to the United States of certain drug traffickers who threatened his grip on power and promising drug traffickers who paid him and followed his instructions that they would remain in Honduras.  In addition, HERNANDEZ and his co-conspirators abused Honduran institutions, including the Honduran National Police and Honduran Army, 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.  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 HERNANDEZ’s co-conspirators have already been convicted and sentenced in connection with this investigation.  Among others, HERNANDEZ’s brother, Juan Antonio Hernandez Alvarado, a/k/a “Tony Hernandez,” was convicted after trial in October 2019 and sentenced to life in prison, and Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez, a violent cocaine trafficker who met with HERNANDEZ on multiple occasions to discuss their drug trafficking partnership, was convicted after trial in March 2021, and sentenced to life in prison.  More recently, Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, a/k/a “El Tigre,” the former chief of the Honduran National Police, pled guilty to his participation in the cocaine importation conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 25, 2024, and Mauricio Hernandez Pineda, a former member of the Honduran National Police and HERNANDEZ’s cousin, pled guilty to his participation in the cocaine importation conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 2, 2024.

In total, HERNANDEZ and his co-conspirators trafficked more than 400 tons of U.S.-bound cocaine through Honduras during HERNANDEZ’s tenure in the Honduran government.

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HERNANDEZ, 55, of Honduras, was convicted of three counts: (i) conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison; (ii) using and carrying machineguns and destructive devices during, and possessing machineguns in furtherance of, the cocaine-importation conspiracy, which carries a mandatory consecutive prison term of 30 years; and (iii) conspiring to use and carry machineguns and destructive devices during, and possessing machineguns in furtherance of, the cocaine-importation conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The minimum and maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding efforts of the DEA’s Special Operations Division Bilateral Investigations Unit, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (“OCDETF”) New York Strike Force, and Tegucigalpa Country Office, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs and the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.  Mr. Williams additionally thanked the Government of Honduras for its assistance extraditing HERNANDEZ to the United States.

The OCDETF New York Strike Force provides for the establishment of permanent multi-agency task force teams that work side-by-side in the same location.  This co-located model enables agents from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations.  The specific mission of the New York Strike Force is to target, disrupt, and dismantle drug trafficking and money laundering organizations, reduce the illegal drug supply in the United States, and bring criminals to justice.

This case is being handled by the Office’s National Security and International Narcotics Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jacob H. Gutwillig, David J. Robles, Elinor L. Tarlow, and Kyle A. Wirshba are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from Paralegal Specialist Kayla A. Collins and Trial Attorneys Andrea Broach and Jessica Fender of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.


Nicholas Biase, Lauren Scarff
(212) 637-2600

Updated March 8, 2024

Drug Trafficking
Firearms Offenses
Press Release Number: 24-089