In his continuing testimony to a US court in New York City, a confessed drug trafficker from Honduras implicated the brother of current Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández in his criminal enterprise, the latest in a series of accusations that appear to be forming the foundation for several more ground-breaking US judicial cases against Honduras elites.
As part of a sentencing hearing on March 16, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga of the once-feared Cachiros criminal group said he met with Honduran Congressman Antonio "Tony" Hernández where they discussed how a company that Rivera Maradiaga and his family owned and operated could receive money from the government for services rendered. In return, Rivera Maradiaga claimed, he would pay a "bribe" to the president's brother.
The company, Inmobiliaria Rivera Maradiaga SA (INRIMAR), had done a series of road construction and maintenance projects for the government during the previous administration of President Porfirio Lobo. Rivera Maradiaga was testifying in a sentencing hearing regarding Lobo's son, Fabio Porfirio Lobo, who plead guilty to trafficking drugs in 2016.
The question and answer session between Rivera Maradiaga and lead government prosecutor Emil Bove went as follows:
Bove: During the course of your cooperation with the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration], did you ever meet with Tony Hernández to discuss your front companies?
Rivera Maradiaga: Yes, sir.
Bove: What were some of the things discussed at that meeting?
Rivera Maradiaga: That Tony Hernández was going to help us pay some money to INRIMAR.
Bove: Sir, at the time of this meeting, did the Honduran government owe INRIMAR money pursuant to contracts?
Rivera Maradiaga: Yes, sir.
Bove: And what did Tony Hernández offer to do with respect to those debts that the Honduran government owed to INRIMAR?
Rivera Maradiaga: He was going to get funds from the government in order to pay INRIMAR.
Bove: Did he ask for anything in return?
Rivera Maradiaga: Yes, sir.
Rivera Maradiaga: Bribes.
Bove: Did you record that meeting?
Rivera Maradiaga: Yes, sir. I recorded it.
Bove: Did you turn it over to the DEA after you recorded it?
Rivera Maradiaga: Yes, sir.
Rivera Maradiaga did not say if Tony Hernández fulfilled his promise, and the president's brother denied these latest accusations linking him to drug trafficking.
"I am open to questions from any investigation or request for information," he said, according to El Heraldo.
For his part, President Hernández responded to the allegations by reiterating previous promises that his administration would not move to protect those implicated, even his own family members.
"I'm not going to protect anyone, absolutely anyone," the president said in comments reported by La Prensa.
A source in the US Embassy told InSight Crime last year that Tony Hernández was a "person of interest," a designation that appeared related to the investigation of a different drug trafficking organization. And a source in the DEA told InSight Crime that the anti-drug agency had corroborated the account from the surveillance Rivera Maradiaga mentioned in the March 16 testimony.
The DEA source also corroborated Rivera Maradiaga's account that he was a DEA collaborator from late 2013 through the early part of 2015, when he and his brother Javier turned themselves in to US authorities, and that he had provided it with recordings and other evidence that implicated elites. Rivera Maradiaga and his brother have continued to cooperate since his arrival in the United States, hoping to lower their sentences and providing mountains of evidence including photographs and tape recordings of conversations with several suspects in the cases.
In fact, the brothers have become the star witnesses for several cases, including that of Honduran economic and political giant Jaime Rosenthal Oliva and several members of his family -- chronicled in detail by InSight Crime in its Elites and Organized Crime series -- as well as that of Fabio Lobo, the son of former Honduran President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo.
In his testimony during the sentencing hearing on March 16, Rivera Maradiaga said that he and his brother Javier had met with then-presidential candidate Pepe Lobo on two occasions, and that in exchange for money (upwards of $300,000 handed over in foot-high stacks of 500 lempira bills) the would-be president promised them "protection" from local law enforcement who were investigating the family at the time, access to government contracts (for which INRIMAR was one of several conduits), and that he would not extradite them to face charges in the United States. Rivera Maradiaga provided the government with photographs to prove his claim, including one in which Lobo appears next to Javier Rivera Maradiaga. (See below)
Fabio Lobo (far left), Porfirio Lobo (fourth from left), Javier Rivera Maradiaga (fifth from left), Juan Gómez (sixth from left). Source: US Courts
Lobo has repeatedly denied these connections, including in public declarations. But in the March 16 exchange in the New York City courtroom with Lobo's defense attorney Manuel Retureta, Rivera Maradiaga reiterated that President Lobo had fulfilled his promises to them and then some, even while the then-president publicly tried to illustrate his resolve in fighting drug trafficking organizations.
Retureta: Were you concerned when other events happened such as the formulation of government organizations to fight narco-trafficking?
Rivera Maradiaga: Nobody was extradited during President Lobo's administration. My fear at the time, my only fear was about extradition. There were rumors, we heard rumors, but the president had promised my brother and me that there would be no extraditions from Honduras. We were not extradited. I was concerned about extradition.
Retureta: You were aware that seizures took place during the president's administration, were you not?
Rivera Maradiaga: No, sir, there were [sic] nothing that belonged to us [sic] was seized. The president came through on his promise that we would not be touched as long as he was president, we weren't extradited. And actually, he set up his son as a middleman who would be able to protect us, help us, the Cachiros, which was my brother and me.
That middleman, of course, was Fabio Lobo. On at least two occasions, Rivera Maradiaga testified, Lobo used his presidential detail and security guards to travel to an area where drugs were arriving to Honduras, and to accompany the drugs from their drop to their next destination in what is the long distribution chain from Colombia to the United States.
On at least five other occasions, Fabio Lobo was notified of the movement of illegal drugs, should the Cachiros run into any authorities while transporting them across the country, Rivera Maradiaga said. The relationship was so deep that Rivera Maradiaga told government prosecutor Bove in court that the brothers considered Fabio a member of the organization.
Bove: Why did he say that, following the second meeting, that you considered the defendant to be a member of the Cachiros?
Rivera Maradiaga: Because President Lobo Sosa, the defendant's father, had assigned him as security person for the Cachiros drug trafficking organization that belonged to my brother and me.
The relationship continued after Porfirio Lobo left office in January 2014, as Fabio tried to lure President Juan Orlando Hernández into the Cachiros' fold. In one exchange via text obtained by the government after the Cachiros had started cooperating with the DEA, Fabio Lobo told Rivera Maradiaga that he had communicated with President Juan Orlando Hernández about the organization.
Lobo: They asked me how you all were
Rivera Maradiaga: Who Comando [commander - his pet name for Fabio]
Lobo: That you should help them
Rivera Maradiaga: Who would help them, or who do we help? Comando I don't understand
Lobo: That you all help them
Rivera Maradiaga: That would be good Comando…Who told you that
Lobo: I told the Boss…With JO [Juan Orlando Hernández]
Rivera Maradiaga: Oh yes Comando that would be good and what did he say…Tell him that we should negotiate...And, that he should leave the gringos with their work... Just so that they don't keep on taking their properties away.
Lobo: That he should support them, that they have already taken enough from them…That they don't have anything…That you are good people…He asked me if I have a relationship with you as well
According to a transcript of a recorded conversation that appears separately in the case file, Fabio Lobo also tried to establish connections between current Security Minister Julián Pacheco while he was still leading the intelligence division of the army and several drug traffickers, who were, unbeknownst to Fabio, also cooperating with the DEA. The former president's son set up a meeting in 2014, with Pacheco in which the collaborators sought to get his protection for a drug shipment, but Pacheco did not fall for the ruse, quickly absconding from the meeting.
Confidential Informant (CI): Um, we want to come here with merchandise, with drugs.
Pacheco: With drugs?
CI: Yes, sir. I don't know if it would be possible and we ca-
Pacheco: [Unintelligible] no. [Unintelligible] Fabio.
Lobo: No, it's not much [unintelligible].
Pacheco: No. Excuse me. Excuse me.
However, Pacheco may still be in a difficult legal position. Rivera Maradiaga implicated him in his March 16 testimony by saying others had spoken of obaining his support for the group's illegal activities. The security minister was also head of the military battalion in Colón in the mid-2000s, a period in which the Cachiros were surging.
Colón's governor at the time was Juan Gómez. Gómez (who in the picture above is next to Javier Rivera Maradiaga's left) later became a key political go-between for the drug trafficking organization and a straw owner of several of the Rivera Maradiaga family businesses, including one that managed government-funded construction and maintenance contracts.
SEE ALSO: Cachiros News and Profile
In an interview in 2015, Pacheco told InSight Crime that he had a relationship with Gómez but only because he was the governor at the time he was running the local battalion. Gómez was assassinated in January 2015, prompting Javier and Devis Rivera Maradiaga to flee Honduras and formalize their status as star witnesses in these cases.
The brothers have both plead guilty to drug trafficking and are hoping their testimonies will lead to a drastic reduction in the years they have to serve in prison. They have already been rewarded, as their family is in the United States, according to Devis' March 16 testimony, due to the evidence he provided against "drug traffickers and politicians."
President Juan Orlando Hernández's brother Tony Hernández, appears to be one of these politicians. And now he has been connected to the Cachiros, whose testimony is knocking down one domino after another.
*With reporting from Felipe Puerta.