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Crime and Justice

New York anti-narcotics prosecutor leaves, raising questions about major drug trafficking cases

Emil Bove led the New York prosecution of key political figures in Honduras and Venezuela. His departure leaves a hole in the Justice Department, but that won't affect ongoing cases, experts say. (Leer en español)
Publicado 19 Ene 2022 – 05:28 PM EST | Actualizado 19 Ene 2022 – 05:35 PM EST
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Left to right: Juan Orlando Hernandez, president of Honduras, former New York federal prosecutor Emil Bove and Venezuelan presisnt Nicolas Maduro Crédito: Getty Images / CSG Law / David Maris

A former top U.S. federal prosecutor in New York whose resignation last month sparked rumors that he had been ousted or that the high-profile cases he oversaw could suffer in his absence announced that he has joined a prominent law firm.

Emil Bove was until recently the co-chief of the national security and international narcotics unit at the Southern District of New York (SDNY), where he oversaw drug trafficking cases against such notable figures as Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and Juan Antonio 'Tony' Hernández, a brother of the president of Honduras.

Far from being pushed out of the job, Bove told Univision that, like many in his position, he chose to leave for a job in the private sector after establishing a highly successful track record over more than nine years.

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Juan Orlando Hernández

Bove’s departure from what many consider the foremost criminal investigating office in the country, came less than a month before Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández is due to step down from office on January 27, amidst widespread speculation that he could be indicted on charges related to drug trafficking.

Prosecutors in the Tony Hernández trial, and two other cases, have made no secret that president Hernandez is under investigation for allegedly accepting millions in bribes from drug traffickers, including the notorious former boss of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

Hernández has strongly denied the allegations contending that witnesses made up evidence against him as revenge for being extradited. Hernández has not been indicted on any charges so far, although that could be because the U.S. has a policy of not indicting sitting heads of state, potentially leaving him vulnerable after he leaves office next week.

Bove issued a statement Wednesday stressing that his resignation would in no way affect the on-going cases, stressing the teamwork among different law enforcement agencies that goes into building drug cases.

Team effort

“Without getting into any particular case or investigation, there is historic public record of the long-term partnership between SDNY and the DEA’s Special Operations Division,” he said. “The track record of that partnership is tireless efforts to pursue justice based on the evidence. I can’t fathom of a reason that those traditions would change,” he added.

Bove’s departure was unlikely to have any effect on his cases, as federal prosecutors have large teams who are fully briefed on important cases and are ready to step in when necessary, said David Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor in Miami who is now in private practice.

“To Bove’s credit, he was a driving factor, but you never do big cases alone. It’s not like they are going to fall apart because you are leaving,” he said.

Weinstein compared Bove’s departure to a baseball team losing a star pitcher. “It’s always a team effort with the federal government. They have a strong bench and so you can always find a replacement. That’s why there are dynasties in sports,” he said.

Bove had already begun to phase out or frontline prosecution duties after the Tony Hernández trial in October 2019. A fellow prosecutor, Amanda Houle, took over last month as Co-Chief of the National Security & International Narcotics Unit. Other prosecutors also stepped in last year to handle the trial – and conviction - of another Honduran trafficker, Geovanny Fuentes.


Bove’s resignation, which took effect on December 30, announced in a brief court document with no explanation, sparked widespread rumors that he was being shown the door after a scandal in 2020 involving misconduct by staff in his unit at SDNY.

The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, jumped in with a tweet when the resignation became public, saying: “The U.S. government just fired a prosecutor who jailed the brother of [Juan Orlando Hernández] for drug trafficking. Then they say they are concerned about justice in our countries.”

Bukele was responding to a tweet by a journalist which suggested that: “Latin American narcos may sleep easier” after the news that Bove was stepping down.

That prompted the Southern District of New York to issue a rare statement praising Bove’s “distinguished tenure as a federal prosecutor” and confirming that it was his decision to pursue a career in the private sector.

Office misconduct

Last year, prosecutors in the unit headed by Bove, admitted lying about their own mishandling of evidence during the trial of a businessman accused of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

A judge found no evidence that prosecutors intentionally withheld evidence from lawyers representing the Iranian banker, but she said they made a “deliberate attempt to obscure” the truth and failed to properly disclose a key document that might have helped the defense.

As a result, prosecutors dropped all charges in the case, but Bove, who was not directly implicated in the misconduct, kept his job.

Move to private practice

Legal experts say the high profile demands of the job often mean that federal prosecutors opt to leave government service after 10 years or so. Their legal experience means they are highly sought after by private sector law firms that typically pay two or three times the salaries of federal prosecutors. “If you are going to make the jump to the private sector you need to seize the moment. Opportunity often only knocks once,” said Weinstein.

Bove is joining the government and corporate investigations group at New York firm Chiesa, Shahinian & Giantomasi, a 50-year-old firm with a legal staff that includes seven former federal prosecutors from the New York-New Jersey area.

“Coming out of his leadership position at the SDNY, Emil brings with him incredible experience in complex economic and national security practice areas that will broaden our growing client base,” said Jeffrey S. Chiesa of CSG in a statement Wednesday.

Bove, who is 40, told Univision that CSG was a good fit for him due to its team of lawyers with backgrounds in law enforcement and public service. “The firm offered me a platform to develop a practice, drawing on my previous experiences, to advise clients in their most sensitive white-collar investigations and national security matters,” he said in a statement. “The more I learned about the firm and its people, the clearer it became to me and my family that this was the right next step in my career,” he added.

During his nine years with SDNY, Bove tried 13 federal cases and worked on 18 appeals, and achieved countless guilty pleas. The cases he worked on include a litany of high profile figures, such as Yani and Yankel Rosenthal, the relatives of two Honduran presidents, as well as Venezuela’s Maduro, former Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami and the former head of Venezuelan military intelligence, General Hugo Carvajal.

Besides the Latin American cases he;s arguably most famous for, he supervised many other high-profile prosecutions including an alleged multi-billion-dollar scheme to evade sanctions against Iran, a cryptocurrency scheme to evade sanctions against North Korea, the largest theft of classified information in the CIA’s history, and a 2017 fatal terrorist attack in Manhattan.

Bove said he hoped to continue working on international criminal cases involving Latin America, only on the other side of the courtroom. He noted that President Joe Biden has emphasized that foreign corruption is a national security priority for the U.S. government. “I look forward to helping clients navigate those issues, whether that is providing business and compliance advice, engaging with US officials on their behalf during investigations, or representing them at trial,” he said.

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