A former senior Honduran police officer was arested on Wednesday in New York, accused of conspiracy to traffic cocaine along with Tony Hernández, the brother of the president of Honduras, according to court documents.
He arrest comes days before Tony Hernandez is due to be sentenced in New York on February 24, after he was convicted by a New York jury in October. He faces a minimum sentence of 30 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Mauricio Hernández was identified in that trial as a cousin of Tony Hernández, though the office of President Juan Orlando Hernández denied any family ties on Wednesday night.
President Hernández was named an an unaccused co-conspirator in the case against his brother and has strongly refuted the accusations.
It remains unclear if Mauricio Hernández turned himself in or if he was arrested and extradited. One official source familiar with the arrest told Univision that the former policeman surrendered voluntarily to the DEA. If he decides to cooperate with U.S. officials he could have trade what he knows with prosecutors in return for a lesser sentence. During the Tony Hernández trial, New York prosecutors repeatedly accused President Hernández and his government of receiving money from drug traffickers, and Mauricio Hernández would be a potentially valuable witness if he is ever prosecuted.
The president enjoys immunity in the United States because of his status as foreign head of state. He is a strong ally of the Trump administration's harsh immigration policies to limit the flow of Central American migrants on the southern border of the United States.
The president has argued that the case against his brother is a product of his efforts to combat violence and drug trafficking in Honduras, with the support of the United States. That included a 2012 agreement to extradite Honduran citizens to the United States.
Hernández Pineda, 47, allegedly provided protection for the drug trafficking activities of Juan Antonio 'Tony' Hernández including armed security for shipments of tons of cocaine through Honduras, according to prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.
He "provided his co-conspirators with sensitive law enforcement information concerning planned operations so they could evade detection while transporting cocaine through Honduras," according to his indictment last year.
He is also charged with crimes related to the use and possession of machine guns and explosives.
Meetings with 'El Chapo'
Mauricio Hernández was allegedly one of Tony Hernández's key operators in northwestern Honduras, where traffickers sent tons of cocaine across the border to Guatemala on behalf of Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán and the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico.
Mauricio Hernández was named at the trial as a participant in meetings with Guzmán in 2013 to discuss political contributions for the election campaign of president Hernández.
“Mauricio Hernandez Pineda betrayed his obligations as a police officer to uphold his country’s laws and prevent trafficking through his country, and instead facilitated the shipments of tons of cocaine that eventually made its way to the U.S.," said Geoffrey Berman, the U.S Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a statement after his indictment last year.