Case likened to actions ‘usually seen in action movies’
Three American men were convicted Wednesday, April 18 for a murder conspiracy plot in which they assassinated a real-estate agent in the Philippines for cash six years ago.
Former U.S. Army sergeant and sniper instructor Joseph Hunter, also known as “Rambo,” was found guilty in Federal District Court in New York, along with Adam Samia and Carl D. Stillwell.
The conviction ended a 12-day federal trial during which Hunter’s former boss and infamous South African crime lord, Paul Le Roux, testified against the three while divulging to prosecutors about his approximately 20-year career as an international crime lord that included selling missile technology to Iran, trafficking methamphetamine out of New York, and shipping guns out of Indonesia among others.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman described the case on Wednesday as “horrifying” and likened its details to those “usually seen in action movies.”
“Hunter, Samia, and Stillwell conspired to end the lives of people overseas whom they had never met,” said Berman.
According to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Hunter, Samia, and Stillwell agreed in 2011 and 2012 to commit murders-for-hires in locations abroad in exchange for payments, including bonuses for each victim.
Hunter at the time was a replacement of Le Roux’s former chief mercenary David Smith who Le Roux had killed after finding out he had been cheating him, reported the New York Times.
Le Roux testified that he further instructed Hunter to replace two of Le Roux’s hitmen. Hunter then emailed Samia, a former Army sniper, and Stillwell who was a firearms instructor.
In 2012, Samia and Stillwell traveled to the Philippines from North Carolina, and were provided by Hunter information about their targets and what firearms to use in the murders, among other things.
The two surveilled their targets — one of whom was Filipina real-estate agent Catherine Lee — in January and February 2012 while devising their murder plans which entailed them posing as real-estate buyers.
An in-depth report by Atavist Magazine said Lee received an email from a Canadian man living in Manila who said he and a colleague were looking to invest in some property and had found Lee through an online search.
Posing as real-estate buyers, the two traveled with Lee to look at properties near her home town of Las Piñas City in Manila. It was on that day of February 12, 2012 that they killed Lee in a Toyota van — Stillwell driving and Samia shooting Lee multiple times in the face with a .22-caliber gun.
The two then dumped her body onto a pile of garbage.
The New York Times reported that Le Roux had suspected Lee had cheated him.
By early March, Hunter had driven both men to the airport. Samia and Stillwell returned to North Carolina where they stayed until they were tracked down by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and arrested with warrants in July 2015.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office statement said that Hunter paid Samia and Stillwell $35,000 each.
Hunter’s sentencing has been scheduled on September 7, 2018. Samia and Stillwell are scheduled to be sentenced a week after on September 14, 2018.
‘Ringleader of trained assassins’
Prior to Wednesday’s conviction, Hunter had already been serving 20 years in prison for numerous high crime charges including another conspiracy to murder a DEA agent, and DEA informant in 2013.
He pled guilty and was sentenced to prison in February 2015.
Hunter’s capture came as Le Roux helped the DEA catch him in 2013 through an arranged sting operation in Phuket, Thailand. Le Roux himself had been captured late 2012 in Liberia by the DEA.
“Hunter and his cohorts turned from serving their countries as soldiers to becoming mercenaries for hire, plotting to kill a DEA agent and informant and trafficking in massive quantities of cocaine,” said former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
For the hit, Hunter had hired four former U.S., German, and Polish soldiers to serve as security and hitmen for what they thought was a Colombian drug trafficking organization.
Hunter was recorded describing the mission to his recruits as being “just like a military mission.”
“This is real [expletive]. You know, you see everything. You see James Bond in the movie and you’re saying, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ Well, you’re gonna do it now,” a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s office quoted Hunter saying.
Following the sentencing in May 2016, Bharara said: “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 prosecutors are also managing the current Lee case as both cases came from the same investigation.