This medal recognizes a federal employee for a significant contribution to the nation in activities related to justice and law enforcement (including civil rights, criminal justice, counterterrorism, and fraud detection and prevention).
Position: Special Agent and Group Supervisor
Agency: Drug Enforcement Administration
Location: Washington, D.C.
Achievement: Led a high-stakes federal undercover investigation spanning three continents that resulted in the arrest and conviction of the "Merchant of Death," the world's most notorious arms trafficker.
Notorious Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout was considered untouchable. Louis Milione and his team led a bold undercover sting that put the “Merchant of Death” behind bars.
United States and international authorities for years sought to capture notorious arms trafficker Viktor Bout, a former Soviet military officer known as the “Merchant of Death” for selling weapons to the Taliban, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Hezbollah, and to vicious despots, warlords and human rights abusers throughout Africa.
In 2007, U.S. national security officials turned to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which had been gathering information on Bout and launched an investigation.
In a matter of months, the DEA defied the odds with a bold undercover operation that led to Bout’s 2008 incarceration in Thailand, his 2011 conviction in New York and a 2012 prison sentence of 25 years for conspiracy to sell anti-aircraft weapons and other arms to purported Colombian rebels with the aim of killing Americans.
At the center of this high-stakes undercover sting was Louis Milione, a seasoned DEA agent who with colleagues gathered intelligence on Bout, conceived the plan, managed informants, oversaw the use of electronic surveillance and handled unexpected events as they played out on three continents. He coordinated activities with law enforcement and government officials in the U.S. and abroad, and provided assistance during the lengthy extradition proceedings in Thailand and the criminal prosecution.
“Lou Milione is one of the most tenacious and skilled supervisors at the DEA. It was his leadership that brought down this horrific arms trafficker,” said DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart.
Central to the investigation were case agents William Brown and Robert Zachariasiewicz, who managed the information, processed the evidence and were involved in all aspects of the undercover operations. Thomas Harrigan, the DEA’s chief of operations, said the investigation involved a team that also included DEA supervisor James Soiles, who provided counsel and helped navigate sensitive international issues.
“But without Lou Milione, this case does not go forward,” said Harrigan. “His work was absolutely extraordinary. By taking Bout out of circulation, in my opinion, thousands of lives were saved.”
Bout, the inspiration for the movie “Lord of War” starring Nicolas Cage, established an air freight empire after the break-up of the Soviet Union, and used old Russian planes to earn billions of dollars by transporting
machine guns, mortar bombs, landmines, C-4 explosives, rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles to conflict zones around the world.
News reports and evidence on the public record have linked Bout to arms trafficking in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Libya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and throughout the Middle East and South America.
The United Nations passed a resolution restricting Bout’s movements after he sold arms to Liberian dictator Charles Taylor in the 1990s. The U.S. Treasury imposed economic sanctions against his companies in 2005, Belgian authorities had an outstanding warrant for Bout’s arrest, and he was wanted by Interpol, the international police agency.
The plan hatched by the DEA involved enticing Bout out of Moscow with the prospect of a huge arms deal. The operation involved two undercover informants posing as representatives of the Colombian terrorist group and cocaine cartel known as FARC, who said they would use drug money to buy millions of dollars worth of weapons to fight the Colombian army and kill the U.S. military pilots working with them.
Over a number of months, the informants cultivated a relationship with a South African associate of Bout’s that involved meetings with informants in Curacao, Denmark, Romania and finally Thailand where Bout told the fake Colombian rebels he could deliver surface-to-air missiles, assault weapons and millions of rounds of ammunition. When an agreement was reached, Thai police stormed the meeting room, accompanied by DEA agents, and Bout was put behind bars.
The Service to America Medals are presented annually by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service to celebrate excellence in our federal civil service.