Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Charges Against Members Of The Honduran National Police For Drug Trafficking And Related Firearms Offenses
Six Honduran Police Officers Allegedly Conspired With the Son of the Former President of Honduras to Import Cocaine into the United States
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Mark Hamlet, Special Agent in Charge of the Special Operations Division of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), announced that six members of the Pólicia National de Honduras, i.e., the Honduran National Police, were charged today in Manhattan federal court in a Superseding Indictment with conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and related firearms offenses. The six defendants are Ludwig Criss Zelaya Romero, Mario Guillermo Mejia Vargas, Juan Manuel Avila Meza, Carlos Jose Zavala Velasquez, Victor Oswaldo Lopez Flores, and Jorge Alfredo Cruz Chavez. The case is pending before U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield, before whom co-defendant Fabio Porfirio Lobo, the son of former Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa, pled guilty to a related drug-trafficking crime on May 16, 2016.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Today, we charge six officers of the Honduran National Police with participating in a massive drug trafficking conspiracy that allegedly flooded the United States with cocaine. As alleged, through bribes to public officials and leaked information about ongoing investigations and law enforcement checkpoints, these defendants agreed to ensure the safe passage of tons of cocaine through the jungles of Honduras on their way to American cities. We thank the DEA for their work in this important drug enforcement investigation.”
According to the allegations contained in the Superseding Indictment, other court filings, and statements made during court proceedings:
Between approximately 2004 and approximately 2014, multiple drug-trafficking organizations in Honduras and elsewhere worked together, and with support from the defendants and others, to receive multi-hundred-kilogram loads of cocaine sent to Honduras from Venezuela and Colombia via air and maritime routes, and to transport the drugs westward in Honduras toward the border with Guatemala and eventually to the United States. For protection from official interference, and in order to facilitate the safe passage through Honduras of multi-hundred-kilogram loads of cocaine, drug traffickers paid bribes to public officials – including certain members of the Pólicia National de Honduras – for access to information about ongoing investigations, military and law enforcement checkpoints, and planned narcotics interdictions. The Honduran government recently declared an “emergency situation” with respect to the Pólicia National de Honduras, and established a Special Commission with authority to investigate corruption and dismiss or suspend members of the National Police, among other sanctions. As of the filing of this Superseding Indictment, the Special Commission has sanctioned several members of the Pólicia National de Honduras.
The defendants were members of the Pólicia National de Honduras who participated in and supported the drug-trafficking activities of, among others, Lobo. In approximately early 2014, Lobo agreed to provide security and logistical support for the transportation through Honduras of a purported multi-ton load of cocaine that Lobo believed belonged to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel and would be imported into the United States. Lobo agreed to provide this assistance on the understanding that he would receive a financial stake in the cocaine worth over $1 million in profits. In or about June 2014, Lobo introduced two individuals that he understood to be Mexican drug traffickers to the six defendants. During a meeting, the defendants displayed a map of Honduras and illustrated law enforcement checkpoints and a planned route for the cocaine. During the same meeting, the defendants each also agreed to accept a bribe in the amount of approximately $100,000, and to pay their subordinates a total of approximately $200,000 in additional bribes, in order to provide armed security for the cocaine as it transited Honduras before being imported into the United States.
* * *
Zelaya Romero, 39, Mejia Vargas, 46, Avila Meza, 45, Zavala Velasquez, 44, Lopez Flores, 43, and Cruz Chavez, 39, have each been charged with: (1) conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, and (2) conspiring to use and carry firearms during and in relation to, and to possess firearms in furtherance of, the cocaine-importation conspiracy. Zelaya Romero is also charged with using and carrying machine guns and destructive devices during and in relation to, and possessing machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of, the cocaine-importation conspiracy charged in the Superseding Indictment. If convicted, Zelaya Romero faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 40 years in prison and a maximum term of life in prison, and the remaining defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum term of life in prison. The defendants remain at large.
Lobo, who was arrested in the Republic of Haiti on May 20, 2015, and arrived in the United States on May 21, 2015, pled guilty before Judge Schofield on May 16, 2016, to conspiring to import cocaine into the United States. Lobo is scheduled to be sentenced on September 15, 2016, and faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum term 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 defendants will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the Special Operations Division of the DEA, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, for their ongoing assistance.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emil J. Bove III, Matthew J. Laroche, and Michael D. Lockard are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges in the Superseding Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are 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.