Honduras ex-president gets new lawyer after DEA 'infiltration' claim

January 24, 2024 11:52 am

[Source: Reuters]

A U.S. judge appointed a new lawyer to represent Juan Orlando Hernandez.

And delayed his drug trafficking trial a week after the former Honduran president claimed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sent a rabbi to “infiltrate” his defense team.

Jorge Bar-Levy, a Florida resident who told Reuters he was ordained as a rabbi in 2019, said he helped Hernandez find a New York lawyer and get kosher meals in jail.

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But Hernandez says Bar-Levy was actually “enlisted” by the DEA, citing a public statement by Bar-Levy.

“That is not a fair trial, judge,” Hernandez said in a Jan. 18 court hearing.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel on Tuesday appointed Renato Stabile as an additional lawyer to try the case alongside Raymond Colon, who has been Hernandez’s main defense lawyer since his April 2022 extradition but has since said he is in poor health.

Castel also pushed back the trial’s start date to Feb. 12 in part due to Stabile’s appointment. That came after the judge questioned Colon and Hernandez for an hour outside public earshot during a hearing in federal court in Manhattan.

Hernandez, 55, was a key ally to the United States on immigration and anti-narcotics operations while leading Honduras from 2014-2022. But the Justice Department said he abused his power and ran the Central American country as a “narco-state” and took millions of dollars in bribes from cartels.

Hernandez has pleaded not guilty.

At last Thursday’s hearing, Colon said Bar-Levy met with Hernandez’s family and reported information back to the DEA. Colon said he had also met Bar-Levy “many, many times.”

He compared the sequence of events to a melodramatic Latin American soap opera. “This turned into basically, as we say in Spanish, a novela,” he said at the hearing.

Castel ordered prosecutors to confer with the DEA.

In a Jan. 19 letter, prosecutors acknowledged that Bar-Levy met with Hernandez’s family and shared information with the DEA in 2020. But they said the DEA had no contact with Bar-Levy since then and called the claim the government directed him to infiltrate Hernandez’s defense team “unfounded and incorrect.”

They said they shared documents pertaining to Bar-Levy with the defense in August 2022.

Bar-Levy also acknowledged meeting with Hernandez’s relatives in early 2020 and sharing information with the DEA. But he said he told Colon about those contacts in 2022, and disputed the claim that the DEA directed him to infiltrate Hernandez’s defense.

Bar-Levy told Reuters his initial meeting with Hernandez’s relatives was shortly after the former president’s brother Tony Hernandez was convicted on U.S. drug trafficking charges. He said the family thought he could help with legal troubles.

Bar-Levy said he had alerted the DEA of the meeting so the U.S. government would not perceive him as a “collaborator” of a foreign government, but had not had contact with the agency since 2020.

Bar-Levy said Hernandez asked him for help after he was arrested in Honduras in 2022. Bar-Levy said he referred the case to Colon, and later helped Hernandez get kosher meals in jail, but otherwise had no role in the defense.