Rambo and the 'murder-for-hire' plot that targeted US agent
An international gang of mercenaries led by a former US Army sniper nicknamed "Rambo" plotted to murder a US anti-drugs agent and boasted of assassinating people for cash, prosecutors alleged on Friday.
Joseph Hunter, a military veteran styled after Sylvester Stallone's character in the Eighties action film series, was charged in New York City with running a "murder-for-hire conspiracy".
He and his colleagues are accused of a "bone-chilling" series of crimes that "read like they were ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel", according to Preet Bharara, the US attorney for Manhattan. "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.
Mr Hunter, 48, is accused of convening a group of four former soldiers from the US, Germany and Poland to run security for a pair of law-enforcement agents who were posing as Colombian cocaine smugglers.
The gang protected the transport of what they believed to be "hundreds of kilogrammes of cocaine bound for New York", it is alleged. Mr Hunter is also said to have discussed carrying out contract killings, which he described as "bonus jobs", telling the undercover agents the team "wanted to do as much 'bonus job' work as possible". He is said to have boasted of having orchestrated the killings of two female estate agents, recalling the murder of one at her home. "They shot her, they didn't even go in," he said.
Eventually Mr Hunter and two other gang members – Timothy Vamvakias and Dennis Gogel – agreed to assassinate a Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) officer and his "snitch", it is alleged.
Mr Vamvakias served as a sergeant in the US Army alongside Mr Hunter, who reached the rank of sergeant first-class and "led air assault and airborne infantry squads". Mr Gogel, a former German army corporal and sniper, served in Kosovo before leaving the military in 2010.
"In exchange for the murders, Hunter, Vamvakias and Gogel were together to be paid approximately $700,000 [£434,000]," the indictment said. "Hunter was to receive an additional payment of $100,000 for his leadership role."
During a meeting in Asia in May, the mercenaries were allegedly told by the undercover agents that a member of the smuggling ring was leaking information to the DEA officer.
Told that his gang could either kill just the mole, or both the mole and the DEA officer, Mr Hunter is said to have replied in an email: "They will handle both jobs. They just need good tools."
At a meeting in June, the gang is said to have been recorded discussing plans to kill the men in an African country with "machine guns, cyanide or a grenade" and to wear masks to avoid detection.
In an email the following month titled "list of items needed for the job", Mr Hunter is alleged to have asked the undercover agents for weapons including "two sub-machine guns with silencers".
The gang allegedly arrived in the African country on Wednesday, before being arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder and several other counts. They face up to life in prison if convicted.