Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Guilty Plea Of Former U.S. Soldier For Conspiracy To Murder A DEA Agent And A DEA Informant
Defendant Also Pleads Guilty To Conspiring To Import Cocaine And To Possess A Firearm
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that JOSEPH HUNTER, a former member of the U.S. Army, pled guilty in Manhattan federal court to charges that include conspiracy to murder an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) and a DEA informant, as well as conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States. HUNTER, who was arrested in September 2013 along with co-defendants Timothy Vamvakias, Dennis Gogel, Slawomir Soborski, and Michael Filter following a long-term DEA undercover investigation, pled guilty today before U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Joseph Hunter has now admitted that he conspired to murder a DEA agent and an informant, and provide security and surveillance for a Colombian cocaine trafficking organization. Hunter, a former U.S. Army officer, became a soldier of misfortune who recruited and led an international band of criminal mercenaries. This global gun for hire will now be confined stateside in federal prison.”
According to the Indictment filed against HUNTER, Vamvakias, Gogel, Soborski, and Filter, and statements made at public court proceedings, including today’s guilty plea:
All five defendants previously served in the armed forces of their respective nations. HUNTER served in the U.S. Army between approximately 1983 and 2004; Vamvakias served in the U.S. Army between approximately 1991 and 2004; Gogel served in the German armed forces until 2010; Filter served in the German armed forces until 2009; and Soborski served in the Polish armed forces until 2011. HUNTER served as a sniper instructor and a senior drill sergeant, training other soldiers in marksmanship and tactics. Vamvakias attained the rank of sergeant and served both as infantryman and a military police officer. Gogel, Soborski, and Filter were also trained as snipers.
In 2013, HUNTER recruited Vamvakias, Gogel, Soborski, and Filter to serve as security for a Colombian drug trafficking organization and to perform contract killings. During meetings in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean that began in January 2013 and continued 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 Vamvakias, Gogel, Filter, and Soborski. HUNTER also told the CSs that he had previously been involved in contract killings – referred to as “bonus jobs” – and that some team members wanted to do as much “bonus work” as possible.
HUNTER and his co-defendants thereafter agreed, in meetings and communications with the CSs, to provide security and surveillance services to the narcotics trafficking organization. In late March 2013, in Thailand, Gogel, Filter, and Soborski surveilled a vessel on behalf of the CSs’ purported narcotics trafficking organization and reported their activities to HUNTER. In April 2013, in Mauritius, at the direction of the CSs, Gogel, Filter, and Soborski provided security for a meeting at which the participants discussed the distribution of illegal narcotics to the United States. In late June 2013, Vamvakias, Gogel, Filter, and Soborski conducted surveillance of a purported U.S.-registered aircraft at the direction of the third CS (“CS-3”), who posed as a member of the CSs’ narcotics trafficking organization. CS-3 informed the defendants that the aircraft was to be loaded with 300 kilograms of cocaine to be shipped to New York. The security team reported their activities to HUNTER.
Furthermore, HUNTER, Vamvakias, and Gogel agreed to commit murder-for-hire in Liberia by assassinating both a Special Agent of the DEA and a person who, according to the CSs, was providing information to the DEA about the CSs’ narcotics trafficking organization. In exchange for the murders, Vamvakias and Gogel were together to be paid approximately $700,000, and HUNTER was to receive an additional $100,000 for supervising the hit team. Communications between the defendants and the CSs occurred by telephone, over e-mail, and in a series of surreptitiously audio-recorded and videotaped meetings over an approximately nine-month period.
In mid-May 2013, at a meeting with the CSs in Thailand, HUNTER, Vamvakias, Gogel, and Soborski were told that a “bonus job” – that is, a contract killing – was in the offing, due to a leak within the CSs’ narcotics trafficking organization. In late May 2013, in email communications, HUNTER confirmed that his team would be willing to murder both a U.S. law enforcement agent and a source (a boat captain), who was purportedly providing information to U.S. law enforcement authorities about the CSs’ narcotics trafficking organization. HUNTER confirmed by email that his team would kill both the DEA agent and the informant. At a meeting in late June 2013, CS-3 explained to Vamvakias and Gogel that “the job is to kill a U.S. DEA agent and a source with the DEA,” who would be located in Liberia. Vamvakias and Gogel discussed the weapons that could be used and masks to be worn for the murders, and Vamvakias stated that it would be better to “hit the agent first” and then “the snitch.” In early July 2013, HUNTER sent via e-mail a list of the items needed for the murders, including “[t]wo Submachine Guns with silencers . . . [t]wo .22 pistols with Silencers.”
In mid-August 2013, at a meeting in Thailand, HUNTER, VAMVAKIS, and Gogel discussed in detail the weapons that would be used and the possibility of entering Liberia without having their passports stamped. They suggested that CS-3 fly them out of the country via private plane following the murders. Vamvakias stated that among other weapons, a sub-machine gun and two .22 caliber pistols would be needed for the murders, and CS-3 agreed to deliver the weapons to Liberia. The next day, at a meeting with Gogel, CS-3 confirmed that an order for the requested weapons had been made. Later that same day, Gogel met again with CS-3 and provided CS-3 with two highly sophisticated latex facemasks, which can make the wearer appear to be of another race, for CS-3 to transport to Liberia.
In late September 2013, Vamvakias and Gogel arrived in Liberia to commit the planned murders-for-hire.
HUNTER, 49, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to import cocaine (Count One), one count of conspiring to murder a federal law enforcement agent and a person assisting a federal law enforcement agent (Count Two), and one count of conspiring to possess a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence (Count Four). As a result of his guilty pleas, HUNTER faces a mandatory term of imprisonment of ten years and a maximum possible term of imprisonment of life. HUNTER is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Swain on May 29, 2015. The penalties described here are prescribed by Congress and provided for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Vamvakias, 43, pleaded guilty to Counts One, Two, Four, and Five of the Indictment on January 9, 2015, and is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Swain on April 30, 2015. Gogel, 29, pleaded guilty to Counts One, Two, Four, and Five of the Indictment on January 13, 2015, and is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Swain on May 1, 2015. Soborski, 41, pleaded guilty to Count One of the Indictment on February 10, 2015, and is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Swain on May, 29, 2015.
The remaining defendant, Filter, 30, is charged with conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States. Trial is scheduled to commence before Judge Swain on March 9, 2015. The charges against Filter are merely accusations and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The guilty pleas 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; the 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; 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, Anna Skotko, Aimee Hector, and Emil Bove are in charge of the prosecution.