Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, a former Honduran congressman, was sentenced in Manhattan federal court by U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel, who also ordered him to forfeit $138 million.
Hernández was convicted in October 2019 of charges that carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 40 years in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Laroche told the judge that Hernández for 15 years fueled a flood of cocaine shipments into the United States by paying millions of dollars to top Honduran officials like his brother.
In this March 16, 2017 file photo, Juan Antonio "Tony" Hernandez, brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, arrives for a press conference in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. A U.S. judge on Tuesday sentenced him to life in prison after he was convicted in New York on drug trafficking charges. (AP Photo/Fernando Antonio, File)
Hernández’s lawyer, Peter Brill, had argued for leniency, saying the U.S. should focus anti-drug trafficking efforts on the voracious appetite of its citizens for drugs.
In court papers, prosecutors had argued for a life sentence, citing Tony Hernández’s criminal history.
His brother served as the leader of Honduras’ congress before assuming the presidency in January 2014.
“The defendant was a Honduran congressman who, along with his brother Juan Orlando Hernández, played a leadership role in a violent, state-sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy,” prosecutors wrote in court papers.
“Over a fifteen-year period, the defendant corrupted the democratic institutions of Honduras to enrich himself by transporting at least 185,000 kilograms of cocaine — a staggering amount of poison that he helped import into the United States,” prosecutors wrote. They say he also sold weapons to drug traffickers, some of which came from Honduras’ military, and controlled drug laboratories in Colombia and Honduras.
“Between 2004 and 2019, the defendant secured and distributed millions of dollars in drug-derived bribes to Juan Orlando Hernández, former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa and other politicians associated with Honduras’s National Party,” prosecutors said.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez speaks during a press conference at the Presidential House in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Wednesday, March 24, 2021. Hernandez denied any wrongdoing after his name has come up repeatedly in the trial of alleged drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez in New York, as U.S. prosecutors continue to argue that Hernandez’s political rise was fueled by drug traffickers. (AP Photo/Elmer Martinez)
They allege that among those bribes was $1 million from notorious Mexican capo Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to Juan Orlando Hernández.
President Hernández has repeatedly denied any ties to drug traffickers, as has Lobo, whose son is currently serving a 24-year drug trafficking sentence in the U.S.
In court on Tuesday, Tony Hernández looked pale and downcast. When the defendant was given a chance to speak, he complained about his lawyers, saying he hardly saw them and they barely responded to his emails.
“I feel I have been lied to,” he said through a translator.