Drug lord sentenced to life in prison for intent to distribute controlled substances

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Hector Emilio Fernandez Rosa

NEW YORK – DEA Special Operations Division Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Machak and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman announced Friday that Hector Emilio Fernandez Rosa, aka “Don H,” was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances.

Fernandez Rosa generated approximately $50 million in connection with the distribution of 135 tons of cocaine and 20 tons of methamphetamine precursor chemicals, which he was ordered to forfeit in connection with sentencing.

Fernandez Rosa was provisionally arrested in Honduras in October 2014 and extradited to the United States in September 2015. Fernandez Rosa previously pled guilty before U.S. Circuit Judge Richard J. Sullivan, who imposed Friday’s sentence while sitting by designation.

“Bringing to justice and putting behind bars individuals like Fernandez Rosa not only makes our country safer but keeps enormous quantities of dangerous drugs off our streets,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Machak. “This should serve as a message that DEA will not tolerate and will prosecute dangerous drug traffickers that wreak havoc on our country.”

“Hector Emilio Fernandez Rosa, operating with impunity in Honduras, trafficked more than 135 tons of cocaine to the United States over the course of 17 years,” said U.S. Attorney Berman. “By paying millions of dollars in bribes to Honduran officials, including the former president, he ensured the safe passage of his drugs to the U.S. He also protected his trafficking organization by eliminating his rivals, murdering 19 people, including Honduran Congressman Mario Fernando Hernández Bonilla in 2008. Today, one of the most prolific and violent drug traffickers has been brought to justice.”

According to court filings and statements made during court proceedings:

In approximately 1998, Fernandez Rosa started to participate in drug trafficking in Honduras with a cell of traffickers distributing approximately five tons of cocaine per year. By 2003, Fernandez Rosa assumed a management position in the group, which increased the volume of cocaine it was distributing to approximately 10 tons per year until at least 2013. Fernandez Rosa coordinated the payment of large bribes to members of the Honduran National Police and at least one Honduran military official who helped escort and assure safe passage of large drug shipments. For example, in approximately 2005, Fernandez Rosa and other co-conspirators paid a Honduran presidential candidate more than $2 million in narcotics proceeds in an effort to install one of Fernandez Rosa’s allies as the Vice Minister of Security in Honduras. The candidate prevailed in the election but did not follow through on his promise to Fernandez Rosa. During the same period, Fernandez Rosa and other co-conspirators spent approximately $100,000 on bribes to law enforcement in connection with each of their drug shipments.

Between 2008 and 2010, Fernandez Rosa diversified his operations by working to receive approximately 20 tons of ephedrine at Puerto Cortés, which is the biggest commercial port in Honduras. In connection with this scheme, Fernandez Rosa worked with key lieutenants of Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, aka “El Chapo,” to help the Sinaloa Cartel manufacture large quantities of methamphetamine in Honduras and Guatemala, which was then transported north over land, like the cocaine, and imported into the United States.

In November 2008, following a seizure of related ephedrine in France, Fernandez Rosa ordered the murder of Honduran Congressman Mario Fernando Hernández Bonilla. The assassination was one of 19 murders that Fernandez Rosa ordered or carried out. In 2003, for example, Fernandez Rosa directed his drug trafficking workers to kidnap a man who worked for a rival trafficker. After the victim was kidnapped, Fernandez Rosa’s workers tortured him and, as Fernandez Rosa watched, placed him in a recently dug grave while he was still alive. Fernandez Rosa and his workers than executed the victim. In 2013, Fernandez Rosa deployed an assassin to murder someone Fernandez Rosa suspected had helped kill a relative, and the assassin coordinated a large attack that resulted in killing Fernandez Rosa’s target and approximately nine additional victims.

In addition to the prison term, Fernandez Rosa, 46, of Honduras, was also sentenced to five years of supervised release and ordered to pay forfeiture in the amount of $50,000,000.

Fernandez Rosa was never brought up on murder charges.

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding efforts of the DEA’s Special Operations Division Bilateral Investigations Unit, New York Strike Force, and Tegucigalpa Country Office, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.

This prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emil J. Bove III and Matthew J. Laroche are in charge of the prosecution.