A former United States Army sergeant with the nickname Rambo who led a team to kill a federal drug agent and a government informer was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Tuesday in Manhattan.

The Army veteran, Joseph M. Hunter, 51, had worked as a sniper instructor and senior drill sergeant and was honorably discharged in 2004 after two decades. But a few years later, prosecutors said, he went to work as a mercenary for a shadowy South African businessman, helping to orchestrate murders and other violence before becoming ensnared in a sting operation run by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.

In late 2012, as part of the sting operation, Mr. Hunter began assembling a security team for what he had been led to believe were Colombian narcotics traffickers but were actually confidential sources working under the direction of the D.E.A., the government has said. The following March, he told team members that they would have the opportunity to do “bonus work” — that is, assassinations — for which they would be paid extra, prosecutors said.

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