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Ex-Soldier ‘Rambo’ Gets 20 Years for Mercenary Murder Scheme

A former Army sergeant who became a soldier of fortune nicknamed Rambo was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in federal prison for a conspiracy to kill a DEA agent and an informant.

Joseph Hunter, 51, pleaded guilty after being caught in a sting operation mounted with the help of his former boss, an international criminal kingpin who turned government snitch after being nabbed by the feds in 2012.

Image: Thai policemen escort an American suspect Hunter as he arrives at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok
Thai policemen escort Joseph Hunter, a former U.S. Army sergeant nicknamed Rambo, as he arrives at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand on September 27, 2013. CHAIWAT SUBPRASOM / Reuters

Hunter recruited four other ex-soldiers from around the world to carry out the dirty work of what he thought was a Colombian-based cocaine-smuggling operation, prosecutors said. Their chilling plans were caught on tape.

"The sentencing of Joseph Hunter, an admitted contract killer, convicted drug trafficker, and ringleader of trained assassins, ends another chapter in a chilling criminal case that spanned the globe," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

No one was killed in the sting operation, but prosecutors have said in court papers that Hunter previously carried out contract killings and other crimes overseas for his employer.

One recording caught the former sniper instructor telling his crew about his past exploits, including the "bonus work" or assassinations, according to court papers.

"When we did it, we did it all," he said, describing how they "hand grenaded people’s houses," put a man in the ocean and shot at him, and "assassinated people."

"What else we did?" he continued. "We smuggled gold. We smuggled weapons...We took weapons from Jakarta to the Philippines on the ship."

In a plea for leniency, Hunter admitted to the conspiracy in the federal indictment but tried to portray himself as a victim of his ex-boss, programmer-turned-outlaw Paul Le Roux.

"I was unwittingly drawn into a criminal organization with a guise of legal employment which led me to be threatened, manipulated, and set-up for crimes I did not commit in order to place me in a position of duress by the ruthless criminal Paul Le Roux," Hunter wrote.

Hunter said he feared Le Roux — identified only as CW1 in prosecution filings — would kill his family if he did not do his bidding. He also claimed to suffer post-traumatic stress from his 20 years in the Army.

Le Roux was charged in a sealed case in Manhattan federal court with money laundering, wire fraud, and a pharmaceutical smuggling scheme. Prosecutors said in court papers that he pleaded guilty "pursuant to a cooperation agreement."

The four ex-soldiers that Hunter recruited for what turned out to be the sting operation have pleaded guilty. One was given a 20-year sentence, another an eight-year sentence, and the third is awaiting sentencing.