NEW YORK - Former Honduran congressman Juan Antonio 'Tony' Hernández was convicted of drug trafficking in federal court in New York on Friday after a two-week trial that has exposed political corruption in Honduras, one of the poorest and most violent countries in the hemisphere.
As the verdict was read out, Hernández, dressed in a black suit and tie, took a deep breath and straightened his jacket, tugging at the lapels. He smiled and shook his lawyers' hands before turning around to wave and smile at his mother sitting in the second row.
Hernández, 41, faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. He is due to be sentenced January 17.
After the verdict, Hernández's defense lawyer, Omar Malone, announced he would appeal the decision. "We think despite good efforts, (the jury) reached a verdict that was inconsistent with the truth. We plan to appeal on behalf of Mr Hernandez. The legal battle continues," he said.
The trial also implicated Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, a strong ally of the Trump administration's harsh immigration policies to limit the flow of Central American migrants on its southern border in the United States. President Hernández was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the case and has strongly refuted the accusations.
Moments after the verdict, President Hernández Tweeted his "sadness" over the outcome.
President Hernández has said he will respect the due process of the American courts of justice. " No one can be above the law, whoever it brings down," he has repeatedly said about the accusations against his brother.
'Tony' Hernández was also found guilty of illegal possession of machine guns and providing false statements to a US official.
The case against Hernández was based largely on the shocking testimony of four confessed drug traffickers who told the jury of having trafficked tons of cocaine with 'Tony' Hernandez, in addition to being responsible for dozens of murders, including two high-ranking Honduran anti-narcotics officials.
The jury was shown some drug ledgers that allegedly mentioned cocaine shipments on behalf of 'Tony' Hernández, as well as a photo of a kilo of alleged cocaine with the initials 'TH'.
Hernández defense lawyers attacked the government's case due to the lack of physical evidence and questioned the credibility of government witnesses who can expect their possible sentences to be reduced thanks to their testimony.
President Hernández has argued that the case against his brother is a product of his own efforts to combat violence and drug trafficking in Honduras, with the support of the United States. That notably included a 2012 agreement to extradite Honduran citizens to the United States.
On Twitter, President Hernández lashed out at government witnesses highlighting the vicious nature of their crimes and their "deep hatred and thirst for revenge against me." The conspiracy is CLEAR among confessed criminals who have nothing to lose," he wrote.
The prosecution also showed two highly incriminating videos of Hernandez. In a DEA interview moments after his arrest last year, Hernandez confirmed to an agent that he had lied at a previous meeting about his relationship with one of the country's most wanted drug traffickers.
(Jeff Ernst reported from New York. David Adams contributed from Miami)
In the remote, mountainous region of western Honduras where drug traffickers took advantage of a strategic location near the border with Guatemala to smuggle cocaine bound for the United States, residents have been transfixed by the trial like it was a TV soap opera.
It’s an open secret that drug traffickers seized control in recent years of the remote region of tropical pine forests.
Univision spent four days last month interviewing local officials and townspeople to get a sense of the potential political impact of the trial.