Juan Orlando Hernandez, Former President Of Honduras, Extradited To The United States On Drug-Trafficking And Firearms Charges
Hernandez Allegedly Partnered with Some of the Largest Cocaine Traffickers in the World to Transport Tons of Cocaine through Honduras to the United States
Merrick Garland, the Attorney General of the United States, Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Anne Milgram, the Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), announced today the unsealing of drug-trafficking and weapons charges contained in a Superseding Indictment against JUAN ORLANDO HERNANDEZ, a/k/a “JOH,” the former President of Honduras. The case is pending before U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel. HERNANDEZ, 53, a Honduran national, is expected to arrive in the Southern District of New York today and will have his initial appearance tomorrow, April 22, 2022, before Magistrate Judge Stewart D. Aaron.
From at least in or about 2004, up to and including in or about 2022, HERNANDEZ, the former two-term President of Honduras, allegedly participated in a corrupt and violent drug-trafficking conspiracy to facilitate the importation of hundreds of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States. HERNANDEZ allegedly received millions of dollars to use his public office, law enforcement, and the military to support drug-trafficking organizations in Honduras, Mexico, and elsewhere.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said: “The Justice Department is taking a comprehensive approach to protecting our communities and our country from violent crime. The Department is committed to disrupting the entire ecosystem of drug trafficking networks that harm the American people, no matter how far, or how high we must go.”
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Juan Orlando Hernandez, the recent former President of Honduras, allegedly partnered with some of the world’s most prolific narcotics traffickers to build a corrupt and brutally violent empire based on the illegal trafficking of tons of cocaine to the United States. Hernandez is alleged to have used his vast political powers to protect and assist drug traffickers and cartel leaders by alerting them to possible interdictions, and sanctioning heavily-armed violence to support their drug trade. I commend the career prosecutors of the Southern District of New York for their tireless efforts to disrupt the entire illicit drug-trafficking ecosystem, from street-level dealers to a former world leader, and everything in-between.”
DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said: “Today’s extradition clearly shows that the DEA will stop at nothing to pursue the most powerful political actors who engage in drug trafficking, violence, and corruption. DEA’s multi-year investigation revealed that Juan Orlando Hernandez, the former President of Honduras, was a central figure in one of the largest and most violent cocaine-trafficking conspiracies in the world. Hernandez used drug-trafficking proceeds to finance his political ascent and, once elected President, leveraged the Government of Honduras’ law enforcement, military, and financial resources to further his drug-trafficking scheme. This case should send a message—to all political leaders around the world that trade on positions of influence to further transnational organized crime—that the DEA will stop at nothing to investigate these cases and dismantle drug-trafficking organizations that threaten the safety and health of the American people.”
According to the allegations contained in the Superseding Indictment, other court filings, and statements made during court proceedings:
HERNANDEZ protected some of the largest drug traffickers in the world, including his brother and former member of the Honduran National Congress, Juan Antonio Hernandez Alvarado (“Hernandez Alvarado”), a/k/a “Tony Hernandez,” from investigation, arrest, and extradition; caused sensitive law enforcement and military information to be provided to drug traffickers to aid them in transporting tons of cocaine through Honduras, bound for the United States; directed heavily-armed members of the Honduran National Police and Honduran military to protect drug shipments as they transited Honduras; and sanctioned brutal violence.
As a Congressman, then the President of the Honduran National Congress, and finally the two-term President of Honduras, HERNANDEZ was allegedly paid millions of dollars in cocaine proceeds, which he used to enrich himself, finance his political campaigns, and commit voter fraud while the people of Honduras endured conditions of poverty and rampant violence.
Since at least in or about 2004, drug-trafficking organizations in Honduras have worked together to receive tons of cocaine sent to Honduras from, among other places, Colombia and Venezuela, via maritime and air routes. These organizations then transited the cocaine westward in Honduras toward its border with Guatemala and eventually north to the United States. During this time, members of this conspiracy transported more than 500,000 kilograms of cocaine through Honduras and into the United States. In order to ensure that these massive cocaine shipments safely passed through Honduras, the largest drug-trafficking organizations in the region obtained the support and direct protection of certain prominent Honduran public officials, including HERNANDEZ. In return, these traffickers paid millions of dollars in bribes to HERNANDEZ and other public officials.
As a Congressman and then President of Honduras, HERNANDEZ partnered with, among others, the former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquín Guzman Loera (“Guzman Loera”), a/k/a “El Chapo.” In or about 2013, as HERNANDEZ was campaigning to become President, he accepted approximately $1 million in drug-trafficking proceeds from Guzman Loera. HERNANDEZ sent Hernandez Alvarado and an associate, armed with machine guns, to collect the $1 million bribe from Guzman Loera. In exchange, HERNANDEZ promised to continue protecting the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug-trafficking activities in Honduras.
In or about 2013 and 2014, HERNANDEZ partnered with a violent and large-scale Honduran cocaine trafficker named Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez (“Fuentes Ramirez”). During multiple meetings between HERNANDEZ and Fuentes Ramirez, Fuentes Ramirez bribed HERNANDEZ for protection and security for his drug-trafficking activities. HERNANDEZ informed Fuentes Ramirez, in part, that HERNANDEZ wanted Fuentes Ramirez to partner with Hernandez Alvarado, who was managing drug-trafficking activities in Honduras, and that HERNANDEZ was going to “stuff the drugs right up the noses of the gringos.”
In addition to Guzman Loera and Fuentes Ramirez, some of the most prolific traffickers in Honduras and Guatemala provided HERNANDEZ with bribes from drug proceeds to support his political career in exchange for HERNANDEZ’s protection and partnership in their drug trafficking. HERNANDEZ used these cocaine-fueled bribes to ensure his continued ascendancy in Honduran politics, including his election as President in 2013 and 2017. In connection with both the 2013 and 2017 elections, HERNANDEZ directed members of this conspiracy to bribe politicians and election officials with drug proceeds to ensure that HERNANDEZ won the presidency.
In 2018, Hernandez Alvarado was charged in the Southern District of New York in connection with his participation in this conspiracy, and he was subsequently convicted after trial on October 18, 2019. While Hernandez Alvarado’s case was pending, HERNANDEZ continued to coordinate closely with large-scale traffickers, including Fuentes Ramirez, who continued to pay HERNANDEZ bribes for protection. Further, during Hernandez Alvarado’s trial, drug ledgers belonging to another former Honduran drug trafficker and co-conspirator, referred to in the Superseding Indictment as “CC-2,” were introduced into evidence. These ledgers contained, among other things, notations with Hernandez Alvarado’s name and “JOH,” HERNANDEZ’s initials, along with corresponding entries reflecting large payments to HERNANDEZ and Hernandez Alvarado. Approximately one week after Hernandez Alvarado was convicted, prisoners armed with machetes and a firearm murdered CC-2 in a Honduran prison to prevent CC-2’s potential cooperation against, among others, HERNANDEZ.
On the afternoon of January 27, 2022, HERNANDEZ was charged in the Superseding Indictment and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
On February 15, 2022, HERNANDEZ was arrested and detained by Honduran authorities at the request of the United States. The United States thereafter submitted a formal extradition request, which the Honduran Magistrate Judge granted. HERNANDEZ appealed the extradition decision to the Honduran Supreme Court. On March 28, the Honduran Supreme Court denied his appeal. On April 6, the Ad Hoc Tribunal of the Constitutional Chamber of the Honduran Supreme Court determined HERNANDEZ’s final appeal was inadmissible. On April 13, the Government of Honduras certified the completion of the extradition proceedings consistent with the previous court orders, resulting in HERNANDEZ’s surrender to the United States on April 21.
* * *
HERNANDEZ is charged with three counts: (1) 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; (2) using and carrying machine guns and destructive devices during, and possessing machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of, the cocaine-importation conspiracy, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison; and (3) conspiring to use and carry machine guns and destructive devices during, and to possess machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of, the cocaine importation conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The potential mandatory minimum and maximum sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the DEA’s Special Operations Division, New York Strike Force, and Tegucigalpa Country Office, as well as the assistance of the Office of International Affairs of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in the arrest and extradition of HERNANDEZ.
This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.
This case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s National Security and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jacob H. Gutwillig, Michael D. Lockard, Jason A. Richman, and Elinor L. Tarlow are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges in the Superseding Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
 As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Superseding Indictment, and the description of the Superseding Indictment set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.