BANGKOK – An elite Army sniper nicknamed ‘Rambo’ who allegedly became a contract killer for drug cartels after he left the military was today extradited to the U.S. after his arrest in Thailand.
Joseph Hunter is accused of running an international cartel of hitmen ‘straight from the pages of Tom Clancy’ and plotting to murder a DEA agent for $800,000.
The 48-year-old who reached the rank of Sergeant during his twenty years of service was handed to agents from the DEA today after his arrest in Thailand this week.
Charges against him were were announced by prosecutors in Manhattan today, who portrayed Hunter and his accomplices as ex-soldiers eager to kill for money.
“That’s fun, actually for me that’s fun. I love this work,” an ex-German soldier was quoted in court papers as saying.
During his time in the military from 1983 to 2004, Hunter was a sniper instructor and drill sergeant before allegedly becoming a career contract killer who arranged the murder of ‘multiple people’ overseas.
He was reportedly highly decorated by the time he left the service.
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.
He was caught in an international sting operation by the DEA, in which agents posed as Colombian drug lords and offered Hunter a contract to kill a fellow DEA agent and informer in Liberia for $800,000.
An attorney for the Federal government said:’The charges tell a tale of an international band of mercenary marksmen who enlisted their elite military training to serve as hired guns for evils ends.’
‘The bone-chilling allegations in today’s indictment read like they were ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel.’
Hunter allegedly enlisted the services of a former German army sniper Dennis Gogel and fellow US veteran Timothy Vamvakias after searching through online resumes when he was offered the ‘job’ to kill the DEA agent.
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 kilos 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.”
The indictment said a DEA source posing as a drug trafficker in May proposed to the snipers that they kill a DEA agent and a boat captain providing information to U.S. law enforcement authorities, saying it was necessary because there was a “leak” within the narcotics trafficking organization.
In an email exchange, Hunter responded: “My guys will handle it. … Are you talking about both the captain and agent or just the captain?” according to the indictment.
They ordered submachine guns, pistols, and sophisticated latex masks and shipped them to Africa in preparation for the hit.
But the DEA intercepted Gogel and Vamvakias in Africa before organising the arrest of Hunter this week.
Thai police said the DEA contacted Thai authorities several months ago to say that Hunter was believed to be hiding in Phuket, where he had rented a house.
Another former German sniper and a Polish counter-terror expert were also arrested this week and will be extradited to the US.
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.”
He added: “As much as this indictment reads like the script of a movie, it’s real.”