Federal prosecutors in the New York drug trafficking case against the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, introduce evidence on Thursday from a supposed 'drug ledger' seized last year which allegedly documents part of the cocaine dealing by former congressman Juan Antonio ‘Tony’ Hernanadez.
Univision obtained a complete copy of the 350 pages of notes, the validity of which it was able to confirm with a high-level law enforcement official with knowledge of the case. Compiled from 11 notebooks, they detail numerous cocaine shipments in the hundreds of kilos that were allegedly received by Tony Hernandez and then distributed to his conspirators, including Nery Orlando Lopez Sanabria, purportedly one of the largest traffickers left in Honduras.
The notebooks also detail payments to someone identified as “JOH,” which are the initials widely associated in Honduras with Juan Orlando Hernandez, as well as his “employees.” Univision requested a comment from President Hernandez regarding the ledgers but did not receive an immediate response.
Univision was unable to verify if the references to 'Tony' and 'JOH' in the ledger referred to the Hernandez brothers.
In a stunning opening statement on Wednesday, prosecutor Jason Richman accused President Hernandez of having received millions of dollars in bribes from narcotraffickers – including $1 million personally delivered by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to Hernandez’s brother. Richman described 'Tony' Hernandez as “a violent cocaine trafficker of epic proportions.”
Witness testimony began Thursday morning in the trial against Hernandez, who has pleaded non guilty to four counts of drug trafficking and other weapons charges.
"Alice in Wonderland"
President Hernandez's office issued a statement Wednesday night, in which it rejected the prosecutor's allegations saying it was a "100% false, absurd, ridiculous, accusation ... Alice in Wonderland crazy."
In other testimony on Thursday, confessed Honduran drug trafficker, Victor Hugo Diaz Morales, alias ‘El Rojo’, told the court he began working with Tony Hernandez in 2004, paying him $5,000 a load to protect his cocaine shipments with information on Honduran police and military operations on drug routes off the coasts and along the main roads.
Diaz Morales recalled a meeting where Hernandez assured him: " While the payments continue like this there's no risk."
140 tons and a Tommy Hilfiger-inspired logo
One of four co-defendants in the Hernandez case, Diaz Morales told the court he smuggled a total of 140 tons of cocaine with Tony Hernandez over more than a decade in western Honduras along the Guatemala border before he was arrested in 2017 in Guatemala City.
Diaz Morales said Tony Hernandez also asked him personally for $40,000 for the election campaign of his brother in 2005, then running for Congress when the future president’s political career was still in its early stages. In exchange, El Rojo would receive more important connections and greater access to information about cocaine trafficking.
In 2008, he said he started buying cocaine directly from Tony Hernandez who began packaging his product with a TH logo modeled on the Tommy Hilfiger fashion brand. Describing a load of TH stamped cocaine he told the court; “That cocaine was sold to me by Tony Hernandez.”
The revelations are the latest in a string of bombshells that paint an increasingly shocking picture of Honduras as a narco-state, further complicating relations with the U.S. government, which has called President Hernandez a "fantastic" ally in its efforts to contain the flow of Central American migrants. It also appears to provide evidence of the Honduran government’s own complicity in the rise of violence that made Honduras one of the world’s most dangerous countries and forced countless migrants to flee north.
The first witness on Thursday was a Honduran counter-narcotics agent who testified about the 'drug ledger' that was seized in Honduras last year during the arrest of Lopez Sanabria, which Richman said documents “a small portion of the [Tony’s] cocaine dealing.”
On June 6, 2018, a special Honduran police force unit received a tip regarding the whereabouts of Lopez Sanabria that led to his capture on a highway in the northern department of Cortes. Lopez Sanabria had faked his own death several years prior in an elaborate scheme that involved photos taken of him lying in a coffin and a falsified death report. Since then, he had been living under the assumed name of Magdaleno Meza Funez, according to police.
Inside the car in which Lopez Sanabria was travelling, the police who executed the capture found nearly $200,000 in cash stuffed in a hidden compartment under the back seat along with two grenades, guns, jewelry and several ledgers. The ledgers detail mundane activities such as the upkeep on Lopez Sanabria’s cattle ranch, but also cocaine shipments as large as 750 kilos.
Since his capture, Lopez Sanabria has been subjected to multiple attempts against his life, according to his lawyer, Carlos Chajtur, including an alleged attempted poisoning and an attempt by an inmate to smuggle a grenade into the jail where he was being held. Chajtur also confirmed to Univision that his client, who remains in jail in Honduras, was captured in possession of the notebooks and noted that “it was strange that they weren’t presented in [Honduran] court.”
Through his lawyer, Univision sent questions about the notebooks to Lopez Sanabria in jail, but received no response. Chajtur declined to discuss the contents of the noteooks.
Pages of drug shipments
The reason the notebooks weren’t presented might have to do with their content. Page after page details large-scale cocaine shipments allegedly imported to Honduras by Tony Hernandez and then distributed to downstream traffickers such as Lopez Sanabria to send on to the United States, Spain and Switzerland.
One page notes the loss of a shipment of 476 kilos of cocaine in Guatemala, which is corroborated by news reports of a seizure of an airplane carrying the same amount that was captured after it was detected on radar coming from Honduras. Another page outlines the distribution of a load, with 490 kilos of cocaine pertaining to Tony and 160 kilos to Meza. Each kilo was valued at $9,300, or one-third of the street value in the United States.
The name ‘Tony’ is mentioned repeatedly in the notebook involving cocaine shipments totaling thousands of kilos and tens of millions of dollars. The last mention is dated February 27, 2018, only six months before he was arrested in Miami and well after his October 25, 2016 voluntary meeting with the DEA in which he was presented with video evidence of a meeting with a member of the Cachiros crime family who will also be a witness in the trial.
The initials ‘JOH’ are mentioned several times in connection with payments, including a note dated May 11, 2018 and titled “JOH y su gente,” which also details $440,000 in payments to his “employees.”
Another entry, dated November 13, 2017, notes a “pago a jefes de fiscales por sacar carro de papa” for $28,500, and also in “the coded language of a drug transaction,” as the prosecutor put it, “pago a JOH por fumigacion” for $135,000.
President Hernández is widely known throughout Honduras for his initials, 'JOH'. Violent protests against his government in recent years have resulted in the appearance of street slogans and spray-painted posters with the words "Abajo JOH" (Down with JOH) or "Viva JOH" (Long live JOH).
A letter sent by the Department of Justice to its Honduran counterpart dated April 10, 2019 and titled “Request for Assistance in the matter of Juan Antonio Hernandez Alvarado,” solicits “copies of the investigative records, evidence and reports pertaining to” multiple criminal cases in Honduras, including the arrest of Lopez Sanabria.
The other two witnesses expected to testify on Thursday are DEA agents, one who interviewed ‘Tony’ Hernandez when he traveled voluntarily to Miami for an interview in 2015, and the other who took his declaration after his November 2018 arrest.
Additional reporting by David Adams in Miami