NEW YORK – DEA Special Operations Division Special Agent in Charge Wendy Woolcock and United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman announced today that Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, aka “El Tigre,” was charged in Manhattan federal court with conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, and related weapons offenses involving the use and possession of machineguns and destructive devices.
“Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares allegedly used his high ranking position to influence those working for him and violently protect the politically connected drug traffickers who would smuggle cocaine destined for the United States,” said Special Agent in Charge Woolcock. “As alleged, this was a blatant and horrific violation of the oath taken by Bonilla Valladares to protect the citizens of Honduras. The filing of these charges is another positive action taken by the United States to bring corrupt officials to justice.”
“Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, the former chief of the Honduran National Police, allegedly abused his positions in Honduran law enforcement to flout the law and play a key role in a violent international drug trafficking conspiracy,” said U.S. Attorney Berman. “As alleged, on behalf of convicted former Honduran congressman Tony Hernandez and his brother the president, Bonilla Valladares oversaw the transshipment of multi-ton loads of cocaine bound for the U.S., used machineguns and other weaponry to accomplish that, and participated in extreme violence, including the murder of a rival trafficker, to further the conspiracy. Now Bonilla Valladares has been marked as an outlaw and charged with crimes that could send him to a U.S. prison for life.”
According to the allegations contained in the complaint charging Bonilla Valladares, evidence presented at the October 2019 trial of Juan Antonio Hernandez Alvarado in the Southern District of New York, and statements in open court during the prosecution of Hernandez Alvarado:
Between approximately 2003 and 2020, multiple drug trafficking organizations in Honduras and elsewhere worked together, and with support from certain prominent public and private individuals, including Honduran politicians and law enforcement officials, to receive multi-ton loads of cocaine sent to Honduras from, among other places, Colombia and Venezuela via air and maritime routes, and to transport the drugs westward in Honduras toward the border with Guatemala and eventually to the United States. For protection from law enforcement interference, and in order to facilitate the safe passage through Honduras of multi-ton loads of cocaine, drug traffickers paid bribes to public officials, including certain presidents, members of the National Congress of Honduras, and personnel from the Honduran National Police, including Bonilla Valladares. Following an October 2019 trial in the Southern District of New York, former Honduran congressman Juan Antonio Hernandez Alvarado was convicted of drug trafficking, weapons, and false statements charges related to his role in the conspiracy described in the charges against Bonilla Valladares. Hernandez Alvarado is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel on June 29, 2020.
Bonilla Valladares was a member of the Honduran National Police between approximately 1985 and approximately 2016. During his tenure, he held high-ranking positions, including regional police chief with authority over locations in western Honduras that were strategically important to drug traffickers, and chief of the Honduran National Police for all of Honduras between approximately 2012 and approximately 2013. Bonilla Valladares corruptly exploited these official positions to facilitate cocaine trafficking, and used violence, including murder, to protect the particular cell of politically connected drug traffickers he aligned with, including Hernandez Alvarado and at least one of Hernandez Alvarado’s brothers, who is a former Honduran congressman and the current president of Honduras referred to in the complaint charging Bonilla Valladares. In exchange for bribes paid in drug proceeds, Bonilla Valladares directed members of the Honduran National Police, who were armed with machineguns, to let cocaine shipments pass through police checkpoints without being inspected or seized. Bonilla Valladares, in coordination with Hernandez Alvarado and others, also provided members of their conspiracy with sensitive law enforcement information to facilitate cocaine shipments, including information regarding aerial and maritime interdiction operations.
In or about July 2011, Bonilla Valladares participated in the murder of a rival drug trafficker at the request of Hernandez Alvarado and others because the rival trafficker had attempted to prevent Hernandez Alvarado and other members of the conspiracy from transporting cocaine through a region of western Honduras near the border with Guatemala. Claiming to investigate the murder at the time, Bonilla Valladares reportedly told a member of the media, in substance, that the murder was a well planned surprise attack that had been carried out efficiently and that the perpetrators had cleaned the murder scene thoroughly. Bonilla Valladares reportedly added that the perpetrators of the murder had used 40-millimeter grenade launchers, M-16 assault rifles, and Galil assault rifles. The latter two types of weapons were issued by the Honduran government to some members of the Honduran National Police.
The complaint charges Bonilla Valladares, 60, with conspiring to import cocaine into the United States; using and carrying machine guns and destructive devices during and in relation to, and possessing machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of, the cocaine importation conspiracy; and conspiring to use and carry machine guns and destructive devices during and in relation to, and to possess machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of, the cocaine importation conspiracy. If convicted, Bonilla Valladares faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum term of life in prison on Count One, a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison and a maximum term of life in prison on Count Two, and a maximum term of life in prison on Count Three.