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Former Honduran National Police Officer Sentenced To 12 Years In Prison For Conspiring To Import Cocaine Into The United States And Related Weapons Offense

Ludwig Criss Zelaya Romero Is the Seventh Former Member of the Honduran National Police To Be Convicted And Sentenced For Drug Trafficking Offenses In SDNY

Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that LUDWIG CRISS ZELAYA ROMERO, a former member of the Honduran National Police (“HNP”), was sentenced today to 12 years in prison for conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and conspiring to use machineguns and destructive devices in furtherance of drug trafficking.  ZELAYA ROMERO previously pled guilty before U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield, who imposed today’s sentence.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “Ludwig Criss Zelaya Romero was a lawless law enforcement officer, a purported crime-fighter working for a murderous criminal enterprise.  For the personal role he played in cocaine trafficking and multiple murders, Zelaya Romero has been sentenced to a lengthy prison term.”

According to the Superseding Indictment, other court filings, and statements made during court proceedings:

Between at least approximately 2004 and 2014, ZELAYA ROMERO worked with members of a drug trafficking organization known as the Cachiros, which was a prolific and violent criminal syndicate that relied on connections to politicians, military personnel, and law enforcement to transport cocaine to, within, and from Honduras.  During that time, and while ZELAYA ROMERO was purportedly enforcing the law as member of the HNP, he participated in the Cachiros’ criminal enterprise by engaging in cocaine trafficking and violence.  Among other things, ZELAYA ROMERO participated in Cachiros drug shipments, recruited other members of the HNP to join the Cachiros, located teams of hitmen in Honduras to carry out murders for the Cachiros, and himself committed and attempted to commit murders to protect and strengthen the Cachiros’ criminal enterprise.

Beginning in about 2004, ZELAYA ROMERO personally helped escort large drug shipments belonging to the Cachiros as they were transported through Honduras over land toward the Guatemalan border, so that the drugs could be brought by others to the United States via Mexico and Guatemala.  ZELAYA ROMERO helped transport cocaine from the Atlantic coast of Honduras, where many maritime shipments arrived on their way to the United States, and also coordinated with other members of the HNP along the planned drug routes to ensure that tons of cocaine would transit Honduras unimpeded.  With the help of ZELAYA ROMERO and other members of the HNP, the Cachiros were able to distribute over 130 tons of cocaine to the United States.

In addition, ZELAYA ROMERO participated in violence and murder for the Cachiros.  ZELAYA ROMERO participated in a 2011 massacre at the airport in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, that left six dead, and recruited a hitman who murdered Honduran journalist Anibal Barrow in 2013.  ZELAYA ROMERO also himself shot and killed a victim at the Cachiros’ request, murdering an individual who had participated in the robbery of a truck containing a large quantity of concealed currency.

This prosecution resulted in the drug trafficking convictions of Fabio Porfirio Lobo, the son of former Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa, and seven former members of the HNP: Zelaya Romero, Mario Guillermo Mejia Vargas, Juan Manuel Avila Meza, Carlos Jose Zavala Velasquez, Victor Oswaldo Lopez Flores, Jorge Alfredo Cruz Chavez, and Carlos Alberto Valladares Garcia.  On September 5, 2017, Judge Schofield sentenced Lobo to 24 years in prison.  On February 6, 2018, Judge Schofield sentenced Lopez Flores to five years in prison.  On June 27, 2018, Judge Schofield sentenced Zavala Velasquez to 12 years in prison.  On September 27, 2018, Judge Schofield sentenced Valladares Garcia to 14 years in prison.  On March 29, 2021, Judge Schofield sentenced Avila Meza to 12 years in prison.

*                *                *

In addition to the prison term, ZELAYA ROMERO, 44, was sentenced to four years of supervised release and forfeiture of $120,000.

Ms. Strauss 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 case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jacob Gutwillig, Jason A. Richman, and Elinor Tarlow are in charge of the prosecution.

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