By Larry Neumeister
NEW YORK: Two former American soldiers — one nicknamed “Rambo” — and a German ex-soldier faced charges Friday that they plotted to kill a U.S. drug enforcement agent and an informant for $800,000 in an assassination plan created by drug agents who wanted to catch trained snipers gone bad, authorities said.
The charges were announced by prosecutors in Manhattan, where an indictment unsealed in federal court portrayed three ex-soldiers eager to kill for money.
“That’s fun, actually; for me, that’s fun. I love this work,” the ex-German soldier was quoted in court papers as saying. The documents described numerous conversations at meetings in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean from January through September that were recorded by Drug Enforcement Administration agents building a case through confidential sources posing as Colombian drug traffickers.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a news conference.
The indictment described Joseph Hunter, 48, also known as “Rambo,” as a contract killer and leader of the group of ex-snipers. Hunter, a resident of Thailand, was being flown Friday to New York after he was expelled from Thailand, Bharara said. Hunter was to appear in court today.
Hunter recruited several ex-soldiers in late 2012 and early this year to be a security team for drug traffickers, said the indictment. According to the court papers, the DEA’s sources promised Hunter at a March meeting in an Asian country that his security team would be protecting thousands of kilograms of marijuana and would be seeing “tons of cocaine and millions of dollars.”
Audio and video recordings of the meeting show Hunter discussing “bonus jobs” of contract killings, saying the men he had recruited want to do as much bonus work as possible, the indictment said.
When assassinations of a federal agent and an informant were proposed, Hunter “didn’t flinch at the chance,” Bharara said. He boasted that his men could handle both jobs, the prosecutor said, adding that “from there, it was off to the races.”
Bharara said the motive was “money: greed, plain and simple.”
Derek Maltz, special agent in charge of the DEA Special Operations Division, said the snipers were caught by agents dedicated to “outwit them, outwork them, outsmart them and put them out of business.”
According to the indictment, Hunter served in the U.S. Army from 1983 to 2004 before becoming a contract killer who successfully arranged several slayings. At one meeting, Hunter was captured on tape describing how he had arranged the killings of real estate agents. Authorities said those killings had occurred outside the United States, though they did not provide specifics.