(USA TODAY) Two former U.S. Army snipers, including a 20-year veteran labeled a "contract killer," and a retired German sharpshooter have been charged with plotting the murders-for-hire of an American drug agent and an informant in Africa, the Justice Department announced Friday.
The planned assassinations, which were never carried out, were part of a conspiracy to import hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into the United States from Colombian drug traffickers who were actually confidential sources for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Two other ex-military snipers, one from Germany and the other from Poland, were arrested in Estonia and charged with drug crimes as part of the scheme, which stretched from Asia to Africa to the Caribbean.
Prosecutors portrayed the five as ruthless mercenaries.
The "bone-chilling allegations read like they were ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement announcing theindictment.
"Three of the defendants were ready, willing and eager to take cold hard cash to commit the cold-blooded murders of a DEA agent and an informant," Bhararasaid.
The mastermind was identified as 48-year-old Joseph Manuel Hunter, who was a sniper instructor and a senior drill sergeant while serving in the Army from 1983 to 2004. His aliases included Rambo, Frank Robinson and Jim Riker.
Prosecutors said that since he left the service, Hunter has been a "contract killer" who has "successfully arranged for the murder of a number of people."
Hunter, a resident of Thailand, was arrested Friday in Bangkok and expelled. He is expected to appear in federal court in New York on Saturday.
The other American defendant, Timothy Vamvakias, served in the U.S. Army from 1991 to 1993 and from 1999 to 2004. He was a sergeant, serving first in South Korea and later in Puerto Rico as a military police officer.
Dennis Gogel was a sniper in the German army from 2007 to 2010 and served in Kosovo.
Vamvakias and Gogel were arrested Wednesday in Liberia and brought to New York. They appeared in court Thursday.
The alleged drug-smuggling plot began last year, and discussions about the assassinations began in May in Thailand. The confidential source secretly recorded those meetings, according to the indictment.
"That's fun, actually for me, that's fun. I love this work," one was quoted as saying in the court documents.
On another recording, Hunter described arranging the murders of real estate agents.
For killing the DEA agent and the informant, Hunter, Vamvakias and Gogel were to be paid a total of $700,000, with Hunter receiving a $100,000 bonus for organizing the hit. The three discussed using machine guns, cyanide, a grenade and latex masks to change their racial appearance.
Contributing: Associated Press