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Press Release

Juan Orlando Hernandez, 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
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 that JUAN ORLANDO HERNANDEZ, a/k/a “JOH,” was sentenced today to 45 years in prison for cocaine importation and related weapons offenses.  HERNANDEZ is the former two-term president of Honduras and was in office until weeks before his extradition to the U.S. in April 2022.  HERNANDEZ was convicted on March 8, 2024, following a three-week jury trial before U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel, who imposed today’s sentence. 

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As the former two-term president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez had every opportunity to affect positive change for his country.  Instead, Hernandez 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, Hernandez will spend 45 years where he belongs: in federal prison.”

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said: “As President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez 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.  Thanks to the diligent work of the Justice Department’s agents and prosecutors, Hernandez 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.”

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said: “DEA is relentlessly focused on dismantling drug trafficking organizations that threaten the safety and health of the American people. Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez 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 reflected in the Superseding Indictment, other filings in Manhattan federal court, evidence at trial, and statements made in court proceedings:

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.  During his political career, HERNANDEZ abused his powerful positions and authority in Honduras to facilitate the importation of over 400 tons of cocaine into the U.S.  HERNANDEZ’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 U.S., protect the money they made from the eventual sale of this cocaine, and guard their drug-trafficking territory from rivals.  HERNANDEZ 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 HERNANDEZ 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, 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 supporting and taking credit for extraditions to the U.S. 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, HERNANDEZ 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 U.S. 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 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.  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 August 1, 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 July 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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In addition to the prison term, HERNANDEZ, 55, of Honduras, was sentenced to five years of supervised release and ordered to pay a fine of $8 million.

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. 

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 U.S., 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 Trial Attorneys Andrea Broach and Jessica Fender of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section. 


Nicholas Biase, Lauren Scarff, Shelby Wratchford
(212) 637-2600

Updated June 26, 2024

Foreign Corruption
National Security
Press Release Number: 24-233