US & Canada

US DEA agents arrest three 'contract assassins'

US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara speaks at a news conference on 27 September 2013
Image caption US Attorney Preet Bharara demonstrated the scope of the suspects' alleged illegal activities during a news conference in New York on 27 September

Three people have been arrested in connection with a conspiracy to murder a US law enforcement agent, officials announced on Friday.

Two former US soldiers and a German soldier were detained abroad and extradited back to the US following a federal undercover operation.

The suspects were described as international cocaine traffickers and contract assassins by US officials.

Two additional suspects have been taken into custody in Estonia.

The arrests stem from a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) narco-terrorism undercover operation conducted in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean.


US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara described the allegations against the three men as "bone-chilling" and "ripped from the pages" of an espionage novel.

"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," he said in a statement.

According to US officials, Joseph Manuel Hunter, 48, served as a sniper instructor and senior drill sergeant in the US Army until 2004, while Timothy Vamvakias, 42, served as an infantryman and attained the rank of sergeant.

Dennis Gogel, 27, was trained as a sniper in the German armed forces until 2010, US officials said.

Mr Hunter acted as a "contract killer" since leaving the military, and signed on as "head of security" for a reported narcotics trafficking organisation tied to an international DEA operation earlier this year.

In this role, Mr Hunter, also known as "Rambo", assembled a "security team" consisting of the other suspects, according to court documents.

Their duties included providing surveillance for narcotics trafficking operations, including overseeing an aircraft to be loaded with 300kg (660lb) of cocaine and shipped to New York.


In communications with confidential sources, the three suspects also agreed to commit the murder-for-hire of a DEA agent as well as a US informant in Liberia.

In exchange, the three suspects were to be paid $800,000 (£495,712), according to the statement.

All three suspects face charges including five counts of conspiracy to import cocaine into the US and conspiracy to murder a law enforcement agent.

Mr Vamvakias and Mr Gogel were apprehended in Liberia before being extradited to the US and appeared before a US Magistrate Court on Thursday afternoon.

Mr Hunter was arrested in Thailand and is not expected to appear in federal court until Saturday.

Two other suspects have been arrested in connection with the investigation and currently await extradition to the US from Estonia, officials said.