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After plea, soldier nicknamed Rambo faces 10 years to life in prison in plot to kill US agent

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NEW YORK — A former U.S. soldier known as Rambo who was accused of conspiring to kill a federal agent in an $800,000 hit pleaded guilty on Friday, agreeing to spend from 10 years to life in prison.

Joseph Hunter, 49, entered the plea in Manhattan federal court, admitting he conspired to kill a Drug Enforcement Administration agent and one of the agent's informants.

Outside court, defense attorney Marlon Kirton said Hunter "is severely affected" by post-traumatic stress and depression after two decades in the U.S. Army.

"That affected his judgment," Kirton said, adding that Hunter hoped to return to his wife and two grown sons in Owensboro, Kentucky.

Hunter, whose nickname comes from a Sylvester Stallone movie series about a troubled but highly skilled soldier, told U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain he joined the conspiracy in 2013, saying he also conspired to sell cocaine. Hunter said he was not destined to be the triggerman.

Sentencing was scheduled for May 29.

In a release, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Hunter became "a soldier of misfortune who recruited and led an international band of criminal mercenaries. This global gun for hire will now be confined stateside in federal prison."

The plot was created by DEA operatives who used a sting operation to shut down a murder-for-hire operation that prosecutors said used ex-military snipers for freelance killing assignments on behalf of drug organizations.

Hunter served in the Army from 1983 to 2004. He was arrested in September 2013 along with four other men, three of them snipers, who had served in military forces around the world.

Prosecutors said Hunter recruited the other men to serve as security for a Colombian drug organization. They said he boasted that he had previously been involved in contract killings.

The arrests were made after 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. Hunter was to get an extra $100,000 for supervising the hit team, the government said.

Three others charged in the case have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Another defendant is awaiting a trial scheduled to start next month.

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