By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The son of former Honduras President Porfirio Lobo pleaded guilty on Monday to conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, a year after his arrest in Haiti as part of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration probe.
Fabio Lobo, 44, faces a mandatory 10-year minimum prison term when he is sentenced on Sept. 15, and could get up to life behind bars following his plea to a single count of conspiring to import cocaine.
At a hearing in federal court in Manhattan, Lobo admitted to participating in a drug trafficking scheme that federal prosecutors said also involved Honduran police officers.
"I knew that it was illegal," Lobo said.
Lobo's father was elected president of Honduras in late 2009 after a military coup ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya. Porfirio Lobo left office in January 2014, when Juan Orlando Hernandez assumed the presidency.
At the time of his son's arrest, Porfirio Lobo said he hoped his son was innocent, "but if he is guilty, he should take responsibility for his actions."
Prosecutors said that in 2014, Lobo agreed to help two DEA sources posing as Mexican drug traffickers transport a multi-ton load of cocaine through Honduras so the drugs could be sent to the United States.
The goal, prosecutors said, was to profit from facilitating drug-running through Honduras. The notoriously violent Central American country has long served as a major transshipment point for U.S.-bound cocaine smuggled out of South America.
As part of the scheme, Lobo introduced the confidential sources to a "high-ranking official" who declined to participate in the deal and Honduran police officials who agreed to help facilitate it, Assistant U.S. Attorney Emil Bove said in court.
Lobo was arrested in May 2015 in Haiti, where he had agreed to travel to receive payment for the drug deal, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office said in a statement.
"Whether you are a street-level dealer, a member of a cartel, or the son of a former foreign president, drug dealing is drug dealing," Bharara said. "It is a serious federal crime for which you will be prosecuted."
Manuel Retureta, Lobo's lawyer, said outside of court that his client "made a mistake" by getting close to individuals involved in large-scale drug trafficking.
"He is stepping forward to take responsibility for what he did," he said.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)