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Latin America & Caribbean

New York prosecutors to seek life in prison for Tony Hernandez, brother of Honduran president

Prosecutors accuse Hernandez of conspiring "along with" his brother, President Juan Orlando Hernandez, to traffic 200 tons of cocaine to the United States. (Leer en español)
17 Mar 2021 – 01:22 PM EDT
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The trial of Tony Hernandez is being heard in the Southern District of New York. Crédito: Agencies/David Maris/Univision

At this sentencing hearing next week in New York, U.S. prosecutors will seek life in prison for convicted former Honduran congressman, Juan Antonio Tony Hernandez, as well as demanding $138 million dollars in forfeiture and a $10 million fine.

“The defendant was a Honduran congressman who, along with his brother Juan Orlando Hernandez, played a leadership role in a violent, state sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy,” according to the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Audrey Strauss, in court papers filed late Tuesday.

“The defendant trafficked cocaine on a monumental scale, corrupted his elected office, contributed to the already deteriorating conditions in Honduras, and repeatedly lied to the Court,” according to a 65-page sentencing memo filed by prosecutors.

Tony Hernandez is due to be sentenced next Tuesday in Manhattan. He was convicted in October 2019 on drug trafficking and weapons offenses.

President Hernández has repeatedly denied all links to drug traffickers, affirming recently that they had found a “magic key” to reduce their sentences by making what he says are false accusations against him.

Tony Hernandez helped smuggle 185 tons of cocaine, “a staggering amount of poison that he helped import into the United States”, the memo states.

He also commanded members of the Honduran military and Honduran National Police, sold machineguns and ammunition to drug traffickers, controlled cocaine laboratories in Colombia and Honduras; bribed politicians, including past and current presidents of Honduras; and helped cause at least two murders, the memo states.

“The defendant made at least $138.5 million in blood money through this egregious course of conduct,” it added.

In seeking the maximum sentence prosecutors said "the depth of his corruption and his use of Honduran institutions to facilitate his crimes," set Hernandez apart "from most, if not all, of the prolific drug traffickers convicted in the United States."

Role of Sinaloa Cartel

It noted how, while he was campaigning for a seat in the Honduran congress in 2013, "he helped the Sinaloa Cartel operate, in essence, as a covert criminal political action committee," in support of his brother, who was then a candidate for president.

Hernandez's actions also contributed to a climate of impunity for leading politicians including former president Porfirio Lobo, the memo states. "This impunity resulted in Honduras becoming one of the foremost transshipment points for U.S.-bound cocaine and unimaginable horrors for the Honduran people as they were left to reside in a crumbling narco-state," it stated.

Message to corrupt politicians

By sentencing him to life in prison, prosecutors said it would send an important message. "The Court’s sentence will send a message to the Honduran public that the American justice system will not tolerate such abhorrent conduct. The deterrent effect of the Court’s sentence will also resonate significantly with any powerful official engaging in, or tempted to engage in, conduct similar to the defendant’s. That aspect of the message resulting from the defendant’s sentence is critically important because, without corrupt politicians, the kind of drug trafficking at issue in this case is difficult if not impossible," it concluded.