Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Thomas M. Harrigan, the Deputy Administrator of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), today announced that MICHAEL FILTER was extradited from Estonia where he had been arrested for conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States and conspiracy to distribute cocaine on board an aircraft. FILTER, a German citizen, arrived in the Southern District of New York yesterday, and made his first appearance in Manhattan federal court today. FILTER’s co-defendants, Joseph Manuel Hunter, Timothy Vamvakias, and Dennis Gogel were previously arrested in Thailand (Hunter) and Liberia (Vamvakias and Gogel) and brought to the United States in September 2013. Co-defendant Slawomir Soborski was previously arrested in Estonia in September 2013 and was extradited to the United States in April 2014.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Now that he has arrived in the Southern District, Michael Filter can begin to answer for his role as an alleged member of a would-be ‘security team’ to international narcotics traffickers. This Office remains committed to pursuing and prosecuting those who would help perpetuate the flow of illegal drugs into our country.”
DEA Deputy Administrator Thomas M. Harrigan said: “Michael Filter, who allegedly facilitated global drug trafficking and violence with associates such as Joseph Hunter, will now face justice in the United States. A former member of the German armed forces, Filter was a key player in a worldwide criminal enterprise that included associates charged in an elaborate murder-for-hire scheme.”
According to the allegations contained in the Superseding Indictment:
All five defendants have previously served in the armed forces of their respective nations. FILTER and Gogel served in the German armed forces until 2009 and 2010, respectively; Soborski served in the Polish armed forces until 2011; and Hunter and Vamvakias served in the U.S. Army until 2004. FILTER, Gogel, and Soborski were trained as snipers; Hunter served as a sniper instructor and a senior drill sergeant, training other soldiers in marksmanship and tactics; and Vamvakias attained the rank of sergeant and served both as infantryman and a military police officer.
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 FILTER, Vamvakias, Gogel, and Soborski.
Hunter and his co-defendants, including FILTER, thereafter agreed, in meetings and communications with the CSs, to provide security and surveillance services to the narcotics trafficking organization. Hunter and his four co-defendants provided a variety of services to the CSs’ purported narcotics organization. In late March 2013, in Thailand, at Hunter’s direction, FILTER, Soborski, and Gogel surveilled a vessel on behalf of the CSs’ purported narcotics trafficking organization. In April 2013, in Mauritius, at the direction of the CSs, FILTER, Soborski, and Gogel provided security for a meeting at which the participants discussed the distribution of illegal narcotics to the United States, and in late June 2013, in the Bahamas, FILTER, Soborski, Vamvakias, and Gogel conducted surveillance of a purported U.S.-registered aircraft at the direction of one of the CSs. That CS informed the defendants that the aircraft was to be loaded with 300 kilograms of cocaine to be shipped to New York.
In late September 2013, FILTER was arrested in Estonia, with Soborski, in coordination with Estonian authorities, and remained in the custody of Estonian authorities until his extradition today to the United States.
FILTER, Hunter, Vamvakias, Gogel, and Soborski have each been charged with conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States (Count One) and FILTER, Vamvakias, Gogel, and Soborski are also charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine on board an aircraft (Count Five).
Hunter, Vamvakias, and Gogel are also charged with conspiracy to murder a law enforcement agent and a person assisting a law enforcement agent (Count Two); conspiracy to kill a person to prevent communications to law enforcement agents (Count Three); and conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence (Count Four). These additional charges against Hunter, Vamvakias, and Gogel relate to their alleged participation in a murder-for-hire plot proposed by the CSs targeting a Special Agent of the DEA and a person who those defendants believed was providing information to the DEA about the CSs’ narcotics trafficking. FILTER is not charged with participating in the murder-for-hire plot.
Each count carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain. Trial has been set for March 9, 2015.
The charges, arrests, and transfers of the defendants were 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 Division; 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 Royal Bahamas Police Force and Drug Enforcement Unit; the Romanian National Police; Interpol; and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.
This prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Lockard, Aimee Hector, Anna Skotko, and Emil Bove are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.