José Miguel "Chepe" Handal

A court in Honduras has sentenced drug trafficker José Miguel "Chepe" Handal to 10 years in prison, bringing to a halt a criminal career that connected organized crime with Honduran business and political elites.

Handal was found guilty of drug trafficking in November last year, after prosecutors established his responsibility for a drug flight that attempted to move over one and a half tons of cocaine through the Honduran island of Utila in 2009, reported La Prensa.

The verdict means an end to US authorities' attempts to extradite Handal, at least for the moment, as their extradition request will not be executed while he is serving time in Honduras.

Handal was once a respected businessman in Honduras, and he once ran for a seat in Congress. However, according to official investigations in both Honduras and the United States, he was also an important link in the cocaine supply chain that flows from Colombia to the United States, and had connections to the Mexican cartels that control this chain, among them the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas.

InSight Crime Analysis

Handal was one of the first of Honduras' elite-backed drug traffickers to be pushed into the spotlight by the United States, which added him to the US Treasury's "Kingpin List" in 2013.

This marked the start of US attempts to publically identify several drug networks that had grown thanks to the protection of political and economic elites, and to pile pressure on the Honduran state to take action against them.

SEE ALSO: Honduras Elites and Organized Crime

Since then, authorities have successfully pursued the leadership of even more powerful networks like the Cachiros and the Valles. The governments efforts in these cases have made serious inroads in tackling Honduran drug trafficking networks and the elites that protect them.

However, unlike the Cachiros and the Valle Valle clan, Handal has managed to avoid extradition to the United States, and instead will serve his time in Honduras. Given the levels of corruption in both Honduran courts and prisons, this could create room for Handal to leverage whatever influence he still has to his advantage. Thus, it would not be a surprise if his underworld story does not end here.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Former Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla -- a decorated war hero and a longtime US ally -- finds himself treading water amidst a flurry of accusations about corruption and his connections to drug traffickers. López Bonilla is not the most well-known suspect in the cases against...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...