During our up close and personal encounter with the DEA agents behind "Operation Relentless," which resulted in the capture of alleged arms kingpin Viktor Bout, we got a close look at the hand-picked group of federal prosecutors preparing to try the case.
That select group works out of the Southern District of New York, the epicenter of high-profile, high-pressure cases. For more than two years individuals like U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Deputy U.S. Attorney Boyd Johnson III, former chief of the International Narcotics Unit, have been monitoring and, in many ways, shaping the legal case against Bout. They are two of the nation's top prosecutors, working hand-in-glove with the DEA on the bold undercover operation which spanned three continents, providing guidance on the collection of evidence throughout the intense investigation into Bout, considered the world's most notorious arms trafficker, who prosecutors allege sold an arsenal of weapons that would be "the envy of some small countries."
The former Soviet military officer was arrested in the DEA sting in Bangkok more than two years ago and was extradited from Thailand to the United States this week, following a fierce tug-of-war between Washington and Moscow.
"The so-called Merchant of Death is now a federal inmate," Bharara said after Bout arrived in New York to face charges he offered to sell millions of dollars of weapons to a narco-terrorist group that wanted to kill Americans.
"No one should ever think he can plot to kill Americans with impunity," Bharara said.
Bharara went out of his way to praise what he called the "courageous and ground-breaking work" of the DEA. In a calm confident tone he laid out the case against Bout, including emails and court-approved wire taps and telephone intercepts.
Bout pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in Manhattan Federal Court on four terrorism-related charges, including conspiracy to kill Americans.
The two prosecutors who will present the government's case were introduced at the hearing, Anjan Sahni and Brendan McGuire.
They are both members of the specialized Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit comprised of 21 skilled prosecutors who work on the country's highest profile cases.
Michael Braun, former DEA Chief of Operations, called the SDNY's success rate "astounding."
"The prosecutors in the Southern District of New York in my opinion are the very best that the Department of Justice has to offer," Braun told CBS News. "They have successfully prosecuted a huge number of high-profile cases. They have a perfect record."
Those celebrated cases in the last two years include Monzer al Kassar, a Syrian national and an alleged arms trafficker who was extradited from Spain and is now serving a 30 years prison term after being convicted of conspiracy to murder U.S. officers and Bashir Noorzai, a former Mujahideen warlord and strong ally of the Taliban who was convicted of conspiring to import heroin and is currently serving a life sentence.
In addition, there are a dozen major cases pending in the SDNY, including Haji Juma Khan, the alleged leader of a heroin trafficking organization based in Afghanistan whose proceeds were intended to support the Taliban, arrested in 2008 on narco-terrorism conspiracy charges; and Jamal Yousef, a Syrian national, who was arrested in August 2009 on a charge of narco-terrorism conspiracy stemming from an alleged plot to sell military-grade weapons to the Colombian terrorist group, the FARC.
The FARC was the group Bout thought he was negotiating to sell, among other items, more than 700 surface-to-air missiles. A fake deal proffered by fake buyers that eventually landed the "Merchant of Death" in a downtown Manhattan jail.
U.S. Attorney Bharara said, "…like any other defendant Viktor Bout will get a fair trial in Manhattan Federal Court where his case will now play out."
Pat Milton is a producer in the CBS News Investigative Unit. Armen Keteyian is the network's Chief Investigative Correspondent.
Written by Pat Milton and Armen Keteyian