NEW YORK (AP) — A former German Army sniper was sentenced to 20 years in prison Thursday after he was caught in a sting operation that tested whether ex-soldiers would kill a federal agent.
Dennis Gogel, 29, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain in Manhattan, who said a long prison sentence was necessary to deter other soldiers from thinking they could use specialized skills they learned in the military to commit crimes once they were civilians.
The judge shaved nearly two years off the 22-year prison term recommended by federal sentencing guidelines, saying she believed Gogel was sincere when he expressed remorse. But she said she doubted his claim that he did not know he was signing up to commit assassinations when he agreed to join a crew protecting a drug organization.
The sting was created by Drug Enforcement Administration operatives who wanted to shut down a murder-for-hire operation that prosecutors said used ex-military snipers for freelance killing assignments on behalf of drug organizations.
Gogel, who left the German military in 2010, was among five men, three of them ex-military snipers, arrested in September 2013. The arrests were made after authorities say the men were recorded in conversations agreeing to accept $700,000 to kill the agent and a boat captain who was supposedly providing information to the DEA about a narcotics trafficking association. The killings were supposed to take place in Liberia.
Gogel pleaded guilty in January to numerous crimes, including conspiracy to murder a law enforcement agent and a person helping a law enforcement agent. As part of his plea, he stipulated that he used his military experience to carry out the crimes.
Prosecutors say that at the center of the sniper team was Joseph Hunter, a former U.S. soldier known as "Rambo" who recruited the others. Hunter, who spent two decades in the U.S. Army, is awaiting sentencing next month after pleading guilty to charges that carry a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life.
Hunter's nickname comes from a Sylvester Stallone movie series about a troubled but highly skilled soldier. His attorney has said he is severely affected by post-traumatic stress and depression after his long military career.
Before Gogel was sentenced, he apologized as representatives of the German Consulate observed the proceeding.
"How stupid I feel to have engaged in something like that," he said. "I truly am sorry."
The judge said she would recommend that Gogel be eligible to serve part of the prison sentence in Germany so he can be near the grandmother who raised him.
Glenn Garber, his attorney, noted that Gogel has learned English in prison and has had a cheerful attitude.
But a prosecutor, Michael Lockard, said Gogel was always that way.
"He was likable, gregarious and he was ready to kill people," Lockard said.