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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Ex-soldier pleads not guilty in New York plot to kill DEA agent

An Army officer with more than 20 years in uniform has been indicted in New York, accused of acting as a contract killer and the leader of a band of mercenaries who provided security for international drug cartels, officials said Friday.

Joseph Manuel Hunter, 48, whose nickname was Rambo, and four of his marksmen were arrested this week as part of a long-running undercover operation spanning several continents, federal prosecutors said.

“The bone-chilling allegations in today's indictment read like they were ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel,” Manhattan U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara said.

“The charges tell a tale of an international band of mercenary marksmen who enlisted their elite military training to serve as hired guns for evil ends.”

Hunter used email to recruit former soldiers for his security team: Timothy Vamvakias of the United States, Dennis Gogel and Michael Filter of Germany, and Slawomir Soborski of Poland.

The team was to provide security and surveillance for Colombian drug traffickers, according to the indictment filed in the Southern District of New York.

The security team’s work spanned the globe: In March, some members monitored a vessel in Thailand. In April, they guarded a meeting in Mauritius. In June, the team provided security for a ship in the Bahamas that they were told was loaded with 300 kilograms of cocaine and bound for New York, according to the indictment.

Hunter also orchestrated a contract to plot the killings of an agent from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and an alleged mole who was leaking information to the DEA about the Colombian cartel, prosecutors said. Hunter, Vamvakias and Gogel agreed to kill the DEA agent in exchange for $700,000, according to the indictment.

What Hunter and his team didn’t know was that the Colombian drug traffickers were confidential sources to the DEA who were recording their conversations, according to the indictment.

Investigators used emails, telephones, and video and audio recordings to marshal evidence against the five suspects.

On Wednesday, Hunter was arrested in Thailand and was scheduled to appear before a federal judge in Manhattan on Friday night. Vamvakias, 42, and Gogel, 27, were arrested in Liberia, transported to the U.S. and appeared before a federal judge Thursday. Soborski, 40, and Filter, 29, were detained in Estonia, where they remain, pending extradition.

Hunter, Vamvakias and Gogel face five counts each: conspiracy to murder a law enforcement agent, to import cocaine, to distribute cocaine on an airplane, to murder a person in order to block communication with a law enforcement agent, and to possess a firearm for a crime.

Soborski and Filter face two counts each: conspiracy to import cocaine and to distribute it on an airplane.

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