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3 mercenaries convicted in Philippines murder

NEW YORK >> Betrayed by their former boss — a South African crime lord who testified against them — three American men who worked as soldiers of fortune were convicted today of a murder conspiracy plot to assassinate a real estate agent in the Philippines six years ago.

After only two hours of deliberations, a jury in U.S. District Court in Manhattan returned a guilty verdict against the men, Joseph Hunter, Adam Samia and Carl D. Stillwell.

The government’s case against the defendants — presented at a spellbinding three-week federal trial — was built on the testimony of Paul Le Roux, a murderous kingpin who trafficked in guns, drugs and gold, and employed a private army of mercenaries on four continents to protect his assets and kill on his behalf. After Le Roux, 45, was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Administration in Liberia in late 2012, he began to cooperate with the government as they rounded up and prosecuted the members of his sprawling organization, in an effort to reduce a possible life sentence.

Hunter, a former U.S. Army sergeant with Special Forces training, was among the first to be caught. In 2013, Le Roux helped the DEA set up a sting operation in Phuket, Thailand, during which they arrested Hunter, 52, for conspiring to kill one of their agents and a federal informant. Because the charges in that case included a plot to bring cocaine to New York, it was handled by prosecutors in Manhattan, who are also handling the murder in the Philippines, on the grounds it evolved from the same investigation.

In the case that ended today, Le Roux recounted that in early 2012, just before he was captured, he asked Hunter — his chief of security — to arrange the murder of Catherine Lee, a real estate agent who Le Roux suspected had been stealing from him. Hunter, he recalled, then reached out to Samia, a onetime Army sniper, and Stillwell, a firearms instructor, both of whom lived in the small town of Roxboro, North Carolina. Flight records showed that Samia, 43, and Stillwell, 50, traveled to Manila weeks later. There, Le Roux recalled, they took Lee into the countryside pretending to be property buyers, shot her in the face, then dumped her body on a pile of garbage on the road.

With its frequent references to car bombs, arsons and paid assassinations, the trial exposed the covert world of Le Roux’s band of guns-for-hire, who, he testified, were kept on retainer for as much as $10,000 a month — plus expenses for food, fuel and travel. Le Roux admitted that he paid his men an extra $25,000 for “bonus work,” which he described as “acts of killing and any other acts of violence.”

Before his arrest, Le Roux had also killed people, he said, including his former security chief, a man named David Smith. On the witness stand, Le Roux described how in 2010 he lured Smith into a rural area near Manila and shot him in the head with the assistance of a hit man.

Afterward, he added, the two of them shoved the body into a hole that they had dug and went to have a beer.

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