Moments after his arrest in Miami in November 2018, Juan Antonio ‘Tony’ Hernández, admitted to U.S. federal agents that he’d accepted presents from violent drug traffickers he’d known for years.
Hernández made the admissions after he was arrested at Miami International Airport on his way back to Honduras, according to video of his questioning by the DEA which are part of the evidence in his New York trial.
Prosecutors began to play clips of the interview to the jury on Tuesday on day six of Hernández's trial on drug trafficking charges. There is no court hearing Wednesday due to the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.
In the 56-page transcript of the questioning, the former Honduran congressman made a half-hearted attempt at cooperation that included numerous statements that corroborate the testimony of other witnesses and which are now being used against him.
Lawyers for Hernandez sought unsuccessfully to suppress Hernández’s DEA interview saying federal agents interrogated Hernández without his lawyer being present, in violation of regulations and Hernández’s constitutional rights.
Hernández says that his brother, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, warned him over the phone about the bad company he kept. Hernández said the president told him “that I was going to wind up dead or compromising the people I hanged around with.” On another occasion the president also told him: “Well, if there is anything (drug-related) it’s going to be your problem.”
Hernández, 41, has been charged in the U.S. with crimes accusing him of scheming for years to bring tons of cocaine into the country. The corruption allegations have cast a shadow over his brother’s government in a Central American country that is a major transit hub for cocaine. Prosecutors call Hernández a large scale trafficker who had his own cocaine brand, stamped with his initials TH.
During the November 23 interrogation, DEA agent Sandalio Gonzalez showed Tony Hernández a photo of a kilo of cociane with his initials: "I want to show you something ... What’s that?" he said.
"That’s a T and an H," answered Hernández.
"Whose?," asked Gonzalez.
"Supposedly it is Tony Hernández," he replied, smiling.
Gonzalez insisted: "Supposedly?
Hernández stuck to his innocence. "How am I ... are we, going to put our own initials on something so, so sensitive?" he said. "That’s a ... a kilo ... or a drug package ... alleged drug... But, why would we ... why would I, if I were somewhat intelligent, put my initials on something like that?" he went on.
Narco friends, but not partners
During his interrogation, Tony Hernández denied trafficking drugs, but admitted being invited to participate in the drug trafficking business several times, as well as receiving a horse, two Glock pistols and a Rolex watch as enticement to join.
According to his indictment, Hernández met in 2014 with one of Los Cachiros’ leaders, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, and others. The former congressman said that Rivera asked him to get public funds that the government allegedly owed to a company the cartel used to launder money. Rivera paid Hernandez a $50,000 bribe, says the U.S. government, although Hernández denies that.
Rivera recorded the meeting and gave the tape to the DEA, which is also expected to be played to the jury when the trial resumes on Thursday.
In the DEA video interview, Hernández said that, after the meeting, he went to the Honduran Office of the Director of Highways and asked what happened with the money owed to Los Cachiros.
But, after the U.S. government accused Los Cachiros of being large drug distributors he said President Hernández did not want “to be in the eye of the hurricane” and decided not to pay the company. Howver, prosecutors allege the payment was eventually made.
Rivera later pleaded guilty to charges in the U.S. that include drug trafficking and participation in the murder of 78 people.
Tony Hernandez was a congressman for several years in the western highlands of Hondras where drug traffickers operated along the border with Guatemala, but it appears he never reported them to the authorities. On the contrary, they were his friends, and prosecutors allege that he conspired to traffic tons of cocaine with them.
The November 23 "interview"
On the morning of November 23, 2018, DEA agents at Miami International Airport were waiting for Tony Hernandez as he got off American Airlines flight 1347 from Houston, Texas for connection to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The agents arrested Hernandez after he exited an airport restroom.
The agents allowed another passenger traveling with Hernandez to take his various personal effects, including a gold chain and his wedding ring, back to Honduras.
Agent Gonzalez escorted Hernandez to a private room where he voluntarily agreed to provide the codes to unlock his white Apple I-phone and a black Samsung phone, according to the arrest affidavit.
Hernandez agreed to cooperate with the DEA agents, and declined his right to have his lawyer present and agreed to voluntary participation in a recorded interview. According to the affidavit he agreed “that he was not being tricked or pressured.”
About an hour later he was taken to the DEA office at the airport and fingerprinted. “Hernandez stated that he understood his rights, initialed each line read, signed the advice of rights form and agreed to speak with agents,” the affidavit stated.
Agent Gonzalez began testifying in court on Tuesday about his interview with Hernandez in an attempt by prosecutors to corroborate the evidence already presented at the trial.
In the DEA interview, Hernández gave the names of the drug traffickers he says he knew, some of them who are now testifying against him, like Víctor Hugo Díaz Morales, known as 'El Rojo.'
Last week, Diaz Morales testified that he had met Tony Hernandez at the house of a fellow drug trafficker named Carlos Toledo in San Pedro Sula, the first of many meetings held at Toledo’s house and attended by fellow drug traffickers. Hernandez told the DEA that Toledo was his “best friend,” that Toledo at times lived in his house in Tegucigalpa and that he knew that Toledo trafficked drugs with Diaz Morales.
"The less I know ..."
He also confirmed that he had a “good friendship” with Diaz Morales and that “we would see each other in San Pedro Sula” at the home of Toledo. According to Diaz Morales, those encounters were meetings to discuss their drug trafficking activities, though Hernandez said he was unaware of that at the time. “The thing is that … when they began talking about certain things, the less I know, the longer I’m going to live," he told Gonzalez.
Tony admitted that he was aware of a drug trafficking route they had opened up through the south coast of Honduras, which was explained in detail by Diaz Morales in court.
Hernandez also mentioned Mario Jose Calix, alias “Cubeta,” who was indicted on January 23 along with Ardon, and who, like Hernandez and Toledo, is from the town of Gracias. Hernandez said that Calix was a drug trafficker, “a very aggressive person” who was “involved in dangerous things all his life.”
In photos: the nest of narcos in northwestern Honduras
Calix had tried to recruit him several times, Hernandez recalled, and had told him how to transport cocaine in tubes used for the artificial insemination of cattle. Furthermore, he told the DEA that Calix “was the right hand" of El Rojo – confirming testimony at the trial last week – and that “they participated in various 'cleansings',” which he later clarified to the agent as murders.
"In Gracias everyone knew it,” said Hernandez, acknowledging that it was an open secret in his hoemtown that Calix was involved in drug trafficking. Calix is the cousin of Soraya Calix, who has been director of the Direccion de Lucha Contra el Narcotrafico (DLCN) since 2014. Despite the indictment, the DLCN has not seized any properties from Mario Jose Calix.
Univision recently traveled to Gracias, and visited the Finca El Capitan – a hotel owned by the Calix family - where according to Diaz Morales and Hernandez, drug traffickers often met – as well as the adjacent home of Mario Jose Calix, which had high walls and security cameras. Calix’s mother told Univison that she hadn’t heard from him in months.
The Supreme Court of Honduras announced on September 24 that it would designate a judge to rule on an extradition petition from the U.S. regarding Calix.
Alexander Ardon and 'El Chapo'
Tony Hernandez also informed the DEA that the National Party mayor of El Paraiso, Alexander Ardon, was a drug trafficker, but he denied knowing him personally. On Monday, their roles were reversed as Ardon, the government’s star witnessed, testified that Tony Hernandez was his partner and that together they smuggled between 30 and 40 tons of cocaine across the border to Guatemala.
Ardon also testified about meetings with Tony Hernandez and his brother, Juan Orlando Hernandez to arrange a $1 million dollars election campaign contribution from none other than Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman.
With so many damning admissions made by Hernandez he appears to have converted himself into a star witness for the prosecution. At the end of the interview with the DEA Hernandez seems to have recognized just that. “ My life has already been destroyed,” he said.