Two U.S. Army veterans were among five people nabbed in an international undercover probe on charges they plotted to kill a federal drug agent and others for a Colombian cocaine cartel, officials disclosed yesterday.
The suspected kingpin of the conspiracy, Joseph Manuel Hunter, 48, a former Army sniper, is alleged to have recruited four others as part of a security group servicing what he believed were drug dealers who were actually federal confidential sources in an investigation spanning four continents.
A 36-page indictment unsealed Friday in federal court in Manhattan said Hunter had put together a team that included another Army veteran, Timothy Vamvakias, 42, of Southern California, to carry out contract killings known as "bonus jobs." Vamvakias and suspect, Dennis Gogel, 27, a veteran of the German army, were supposed to kill a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agent and his informant in Liberia, the indictment charged. No one was harmed in the case.
Vamvakias and Gogel were arrested when they arrived in Liberia and appeared Thursday in federal magistrates court in Manhattan, where they were ordered held without bail, officials said. "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 at a news conference Friday.
Bharara indicated that Hunter had come to the attention of the DEA, which targeted the ex-sniper for a sting. Hunter, who is expected to appear in federal court Saturday, once bragged about having committed other murders, including that of two real estate agents overseas, Bharara said.
Vamvakias' parents were stunned to learn of his arrest.
"He is just a lovely boy," his mother, of California, who asked that her name not be used, told Newsday.
She said her son had once been married, served with the Army in South Korea and, after his discharge around 2004, worked as a security contractor in the Middle East, training guard dogs. She has not spoken to him for three years.
"I am just blown away," said her husband about the arrests.