Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Guilty Pleas Of Former U.S. Soldier And Former German Soldier For Conspiracy To Murder A Dea Agent And Conspiracy To Import Cocaine
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the guilty pleas of TIMOTHY VAMVAKIAS, a former member of the U.S. Army, and DENNIS GOGEL, a former member of the German armed forces, to charges that include conspiracy to murder an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) and conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States. VAMVAKIAS and GOGEL, who were arrested in September 2013 along with co-defendants Joseph Hunter, Slawomir Soborski, and Michael Filter following a long-term DEA undercover investigation, each pled guilty before U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain. VAMVAKIAS pled guilty on Friday, January 9, 2015, and GOGEL pled guilty on Tuesday, January 13, 2015.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Timothy Vamvakias and Dennis Gogel have now admitted their roles in a mercenary international narcotics and murder-for-hire conspiracy. These two former members of their countries’ armed forces traded patriotism for profit, plotting to murder a DEA agent and a witness, and facilitating the importation of cocaine, for a promised payoff. Now they face the prospect of lengthy prison terms.”
According to the Indictment filed against VAMVAKIAS, GOGEL, Hunter, Soborski, and Filter, and statements made at the plea proceedings:
All five defendants have previously served in the armed forces of their respective nations. VAMVAKIAS served in the U.S. Army between approximately 1991 and 2004; GOGEL served in the German armed forces between approximately 2006 and 2010; Hunter served in the U.S. Army between approximately 1983 and 2004; Filter served in the German armed forces between approximately 2006 and 2010; and Soborski served in the Polish armed forces between approximately 1998 and 2011. VAMVAKIAS attained the rank of sergeant and served both as infantryman and a military police officer. GOGEL was trained as a sniper. Hunter served as a sniper instructor and a senior drill sergeant, training other soldiers in marksmanship and tactics; and Soborski and Filter were also trained as snipers.
In 2013, VAMVAKIAS and GOGEL were recruited by Hunter to serve as security for a Colombian drug trafficking organization and to perform contract killings. 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 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.
VAMVAKIAS, GOGEL, and their co-defendants thereafter agreed, in meetings and communications with the CSs, to provide security and surveillance services to the narcotics trafficking organization. Furthermore, VAMVAKIS, GOGEL, and Hunter 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 his leadership role. Communications between these defendants and the CSs occurred by telephone, via email, and in a series of surreptitiously audio-recorded and videotaped meetings over an approximately nine-month period.
In late March 2013, in Thailand, GOGEL and Filter 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, in the Bahamas, 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.
With respect to the murder-for-hire scheme, in mid-May 2013, at a meeting with the CSs in Thailand, VAMVAKIAS, GOGEL, Hunter 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 (purportedly a boat captain) who was providing information to U.S. law enforcement authorities. Hunter confirmed by email that his team would kill both the DEA agent and the informant who was providing information to law enforcement about the CSs’ narcotics trafficking organization. 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 email 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 told CS-3 that VAMVAKIAS and GOGEL would commit the murders. VAMVAKIS, GOGEL, and Hunter 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, where they were arrested. On the same day, Hunter was arrested in Thailand, and Soborski and Filter were arrested in Estonia.
VAMVAKIAS, 43, and GOGEL, 29, each pled guilty to one count of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, one count of conspiring to murder a federal law enforcement agent and an individual assisting a federal law enforcement agent, one count of conspiring to possess machine guns and silencers during and in furtherance of the murders, and one count of conspiring to distribute cocaine on board an aircraft registered in the United States. As a result of their guilty pleas, VAMVAKIAS and GOGEL each face a mandatory term of 10 years in prison and a maximum possible term of life in prison. VAMVAKIAS is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Swain on April 30, 2015. GOGEL is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Swain on May 1, 2015.
The remaining defendants, Hunter, 49, Soborski, 41, and Filter, 30, are charged with conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States. Hunter is also charged with conspiracy to murder a law enforcement agent and a person assisting a law enforcement agent; conspiracy to kill a person to prevent communications to law enforcement agents; and conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. Each count carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Trial is scheduled to commence before Judge Swain on March 9, 2015.
The maximum potential sentences in this case 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 charges against Hunter, Soborski, and Filter are merely accusations and they are 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; the Romanian National Police; Interpol; and the U.S. Department of Justice 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.