A former police chief in Honduras was charged Thursday in federal court in New York with helping to ship tons of cocaine into the United States at the behest of the Honduran president and his brother.
Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, widely known as “The Tiger,” was named police chief in 2012 as part of a sweeping campaign to clean up a corrupt department, despite having previously faced murder charges himself.
Federal prosecutors in New York accused Mr. Bonilla of using his position to help powerful politicians involved in drug trafficking — namely, the former congressman Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado, widely known as “Tony,” and his brother, the president, Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado.
The president’s brother was convicted of drug trafficking in New York last year and is expected to be sentenced in June.
The case against the former police chief is another swipe at the president of Honduras, who has not been charged but is referred to in the court records as a co-conspirator. Prosecutors have accused him in court records in other cases of accepting drug money in exchange for protecting a trafficker from criminal charges.
The president is now in a tightening circle of accusations — with the charges against the former police chief as well as the conviction of his brother, and charges last December against another prominent trafficker linked to the president.
In this latest case, the president is accused of helping advance Mr. Bonilla’s career in exchange for protecting drug shipments.
Mr. Bonilla, whose whereabouts are unknown, did not respond to a request for comment. He has not been arrested.
A spokesman for the Honduran president did not respond to a request for comment on the new case. Shortly after the charges were announced, Mr. Hernández posted tweets about coffee farmers.
Mr. Hernández has denied previous accusations. President Trump spoke to him as recently as last week, he said on Twitter.
“We work closely together on the Southern Border,” Mr. Trump wrote in a tweet last week. “Will be helping him with his request for Ventilators and Testing.”
Mr. Bonilla, 60, was charged with conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and machine gun charges.
According to informants who pleaded guilty and cooperated in exchange for lighter sentences, Mr. Bonilla was getting paid by the president’s brother to let cocaine shipments past checkpoints.
Among the informants who provided information against Mr. Bonilla was a drug trafficker who pleaded guilty to a variety of charges, including “causing 56 murders,” the federal complaint said.
One of the informants told the authorities that Mr. Bonilla “was very violent,” and that the Hernández brothers entrusted him with “special assignments, including murders.”
According to the complaint, Mr. Bonilla once arranged the murder of a rival drug trafficker at the bidding of the president’s brother. Mr. Bonilla later told local media that the killing was a well-planned surprise attack using grenade launchers, M-16s and Galil assault rifles.
“As alleged, this was a blatant and horrific violation of the oath taken by Bonilla-Valladares to protect the citizens of Honduras,” said Wendy Woolcock, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Association, in a statement.
Mr. Bonilla was not charged with murder.
In 2002, the Honduran Police internal affairs unit prepared a report accusing Mr. Bonilla of three killings or forced disappearances in the late 90s, when he was a regional police chief. The report also tied him to 11 other deaths.
In 2013, he told The Associated Press that he could not be held responsible for everything officers under him did.
“I can’t be on top of everything,” he said. “Sometimes things will escape me. I’m human.”
He was tried in one case and acquitted. The other cases went nowhere.
The internal affairs chief who prepared the report went public, saying that after digging into the deaths and disappearances, her bosses took away her investigators and gasoline budget because Mr. Bonilla had so much influence. She started paying for gas herself, and then her bosses took her vehicle away.
If convicted of the charges in the new case, Mr. Bonilla faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison.