Honduras ex-president says DEA sent rabbi to 'infiltrate' defense

Honduras ex-president says DEA sent rabbi to 'infiltrate' defense


Honduras ex-president says DEA sent rabbi to 'infiltrate' defense

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez on Tuesday will urge a U.S. judge to appoint him a new lawyer and delay his drug trafficking trial, after arguing the 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.

But Hernandez says Bar-Levy was actually "enlisted" by the DEA, citing a public statement Bar-Levy made.
"That is not a fair trial, judge," Hernandez said in a Jan. 18 court hearing.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel will now hear arguments in Manhattan federal court over whether Hernandez's trial on charges of protecting drug traffickers can proceed as planned on Feb. 5.

Hernandez has also requested that Castel appoint a public defender to represent him because his current lawyer, Raymond Colon, has said he is too ill to try the case.

Hernandez 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, 55, was extradited to the United States in April 2022. He 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 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 also 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.