Feds: Former Army sergeant conspired in drug trade, led team of ‘hired guns’

Posted at 5:23 PM, Sep 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-27 17:33:47-04

(CNN)A former Army sergeant is under arrest in a federal sting operation that focused on a team he allegedly supervised in international drug trafficking and planned killings, according to the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.

Joseph Hunter, 48, led a “security team” of former soldiers from around the world to assist Colombian narcotic traffickers, federal authorities allege.

Hunter, along with Timothy Vamvakias, 42, an American who also served in the U.S. Army; Dennis Gogel, 27, a German national who served in the German armed forces; and two other men acted as the security team that surveyed the transportation of what they believed to be illegal drugs. The men acted as “contract killers” who planned to eliminate anyone who threatened the drug trade — including law enforcement agents, a press release from the U.S. attorney’s office said.

Between 2012 and 2013, according to a federal indictment, Hunter recruited a team of four individuals to assist the “drug traffickers” he met, and provided their resumes to undercover agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Hunter told his men that they could expect to see “tons of cocaine and millions of dollars,” according to the indictment.

Hunter, Vamvakias and Gogel are each charged with separate counts of conspiracy to murder a law enforcement agent, conspiracy to kill a person to prevent communications to law enforcement, conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States, and other drug and gun related charges, the press release said.

Vamvakias and Gogel arrived in Liberia Wednesday to commit killings they had been hired to carry out, according to the federal indictment against them,

The plan was elaborate, including meetings in multiple countries with an actual killing to take place in Liberia — chosen so their passports would not be stamped. According to the indictment, the men requested several guns, including submachine guns, pistols and silencers, as well as latex facemasks that would make them appear to be of a different race.

“The bone-chilling allegations in today’s Indictment read like they were ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney 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 was arrested in Thailand and is expected in New York Friday evening. He is expected to appear before a U.S. magistrate judge in Manhattan federal court Saturday.

Vamvakias and Gogel arrived in New York and were in court Thursday afternoon.

The two other men involved in the scheme were arrested on Wednesday in Estonia at the request of the United States.

According to the indictment, Hunter served in the U.S. Army from 1983 to 2004, attaining the rank of sergeant first class. He led multiple squads, served as a sniper instructor and trained soldiers in marksmanship.

The indictment also said Hunter told undercover agents he arranged at least two killings in other countries. Bharara said at a news conference Friday because the purported killings were set in other countries, “it may not be something that can clearly be charged in the United States.”