But when Bout failed to show in Romania after two agonizing weeks of waiting, the agents decided to bow out for the moment, fearful of looking over-eager. They let Bout know they still wanted to meet him someplace else, and soon — although there was a risk he would slip away.
“If we were real, we would say we have other stuff to do,” said Lou Milione, the Drug Enforcement Administration agent who oversaw the high-stakes sting. “We just wouldn’t continue to wait. We were confident he would stay interested, but there is always that risk something would happen and he wouldn’t keep his interest.”
Within a few weeks, Bout was flying to Thailand to meet with the agents’ undercover informants in a posh hotel conference room. After Bout finalized a deal for guns, grenades, mortars and surface-to-air missiles that he knew would be used against Americans stationed in Colombia, authorities pounced.
Bout was arrested in March 2008 on federal charges, and he was eventually extradited to face trial in a federal courtroom in New York. Convicted in 2011 of four charges, including conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to a designated terrorist organization, the Russian was sentenced in April to 25 years in prison.
For leading the international investigation, Milione is one of four finalists in the Justice and Law Enforcement category of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal for outstanding public service by federal employees. Nine of 33 total finalists will be awarded medals next Thursday.
Milione is quick to point out that the operation was a team effort involving two lead agents, William “Wim” Brown and Robert Zachariasiewicz; prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York; as well as many other domestic and foreign law enforcement officials in countries stretching from Romania to Thailand.
The investigation would garner publicity across the globe, including stories in the New Yorker and on the TV news show “60 Minutes.”
“This is an international impact case,” said DEA agent Derek Maltz, who leads the agency’s Special Operations Division and supervises Milione. “You have one of the largest arms traffickers in the world moving weapons to extremists in different countries. He has been doing this for years. Books have been written and movies have been made about this man. . . . These guys did a phenomenal job to capture him and prosecute him.”
That Milione was the one who spearheaded the investigation would surprise those who knew him in the late 1980s. That was when the future agent was trying to make it big as an actor onstage and in television in New York. But after seven years of landing parts off-Broadway and in soap operas, Milione decided to pursue another lifelong dream: joining the DEA.