A jury in New York federal court found a Honduran businessman guilty on three counts of drug trafficking and related weapons charges on Monday, culminating a closely watched trial with implications that reach far beyond the courtroom.
Prosecutors accused Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez, who was arrested in Miami in March 2020, of operating a clandestine cocaine laboratory and paying bribes to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández.
“Juan Orlando Hernández didn’t just want the defendant’s cash, he wanted access to the defendant’s cocaine,” said assistant U.S. attorney Michael Lockard in the government’s closing statement.
After the verdict was read Fuentes' son broke down in tears. Geovanny Fuentes asked the court for a moment to speak to his son, and told him; "God will do us justice. You know this is all a lie."
Fuentes, also in tears, added "I'll be fine," before kneeling and saying a prayer asking for strength for him and his family.
Fuentes, 51, faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 40 years. Fuentes's sentencing was set for June 22.
Outside the courthouse, defense lawyer Avraham Moskowitz, told reporters that Fuentes was "collateral damage to the government's drive to prosecute President Hernandez." He said it seemed clear that the government planned to try and take Hernandez to court. " I assume at some time there will be an indictment, if there isn't one already and the president will have to deal with that," he said.
During the trial in the Southern District of New York, an accountant testified that he witnessed Fuentes pay Hernández $25,000 in bribes in exchange for protection from, and by, law enforcement, as well as access to the cocaine laboratory, which was strategically located near an important port.
“We’re going to push the drugs right up the noses of the gringos,” Hernández allegedly told Fuentes during a 2013 meeting.
The guilty verdict ratifies the allegations against not just Fuentes, but also Hernández, who was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a drug trafficking case for the third time since his brother, former legislator Juan Antonio 'Tony' Hernández, was indicted on drug trafficking charges in November 2018.
Tony Hernández was convicted in October 2019 and is scheduled to be sentenced at the end of this month after delays caused by the pandemic. In a lengthy sentencing submission filed last week, prosecutors requested a life sentence, saying that the president and his brother “played a leadership role in a violent, state-sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy.”
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.
After the verdict President Hernández issued a tweet defending his record in combating drug trafficking in Honduras.
A little more than a week before the trial of Fuentes began on March 8, U.S. senators presented a bill that would sanction Hernández for alleged corruption and drug trafficking. The verdict further complicates U.S./Honduras relations, which have been under scrutiny since the inauguration of President Biden, who has promised to place greater emphasis on corruption and drug trafficking in Central America than his predecessor.