DEA agent gets 12 years for conspiring with Colombian cartel – KXAN Austin



TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – A once eminent U.S. narcotics agent who used his badge to build a lavish lifestyle of expensive cars, parties on yachts, and Tiffany jewels, was sentenced Thursday to more than 12 years in federal prison for conspiracy to launder money with a Colombian cartel.

But even as José Irizarry admitted his crimes, he accused former colleagues in the US Drug Enforcement Administration of promoting a culture of corruption that made him desensitized to the consequences of violating the law.

“When my client joined the DEA, he was trained to be corrupt and he was trained in how to break the law,” said his lawyer María Dominguez in court. “In this alternate universe, accepting money and gifts became easier and less suspicious” from criminal informants working with the leading US narcotics agency.

Charlene Honeywell, US District Court judge, expressed disgust at the DEA for its negligence in passing her sentence, saying that other agents corrupted by “the appeal of easy money” also need to be investigated.

“This has to stop,” said the judge. “You were the one who got caught, but this court understands that there are others.”

The DEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Prosecutors have described Irizarry’s crimes as a “shocking breach of public trust”.

Irizarry’s allegations underscore the lukewarm oversight he received during his career when he was entrusted with the government’s use of bogus companies, mailbox accounts and couriers to combat international drug trafficking.

They also raise new questions about whether his colleagues at the Miami branch where Irizarry’s criminal activity began similarly abused the badge in dealing with confidential informants who move tens of millions of dollars in dirty money every year under the supervision of the DEA.

Dominguez revealed in court records that since Irizarry’s arrest last year, he has met with prosecutors for “endless hours” to provide information about the criminal activities of “related law enforcement agencies” who initiated him into a criminal life.

Honeywell recently sealed “sensitive” documents filed in the criminal case, saying their disclosure could potentially hinder ongoing criminal investigations, induce targets to flee and prevent other witnesses from working together. Except for Irizarry’s wife Nathalia Gomez-Irizarry and a Colombian customs officer, no one has been charged with the conspiracy so far.

The US Department of Justice’s inspector general criticized the DEA in a report earlier this summer for failing to properly monitor the allegedly closely monitored stitches of the type Irizarry was working on. As a result of the reprimand, which followed a series of scandals involving agents abroad, Anne Milgram, the DEA’s new administrator, ordered an external review of the agency’s overseas activities, which is still ongoing.

The DEA has been rocked by repeated cases of wrongdoing in recent years, including agents charged with wire fraud, bribery and selling firearms to drug traffickers. Thursday’s hearing came just four months after another longtime DEA agent, Chad Scott, was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison for stealing money from suspects, forging government records and committing perjury.

The DEA hired Irizarry, 47, and allowed him to process sensitive financial transactions even after failing a polygraph exam, filing for bankruptcy and maintaining close ties with a suspected money launderer who later went on to work with his Colombian. The agent’s twin daughters became the godfather of his wife.

He pleaded guilty to 19 federal charges, including bank fraud, last year and admitted that he turned his money laundering expertise into a life of luxury that was funded by prosecutors with $ 9 million that he and his co-conspirators received from distracted undercover money laundering investigations.

The loot included a $ 30,000 Tiffany diamond ring for his wife, luxury sports cars, and a $ 767,000 home in the Caribbean resort town of Cartagena – in addition to residences in South Florida and Puerto Rico. Prior to his resignation in 2018, Irizarry’s conspicuous habits and stories of noisy yacht parties had become known among the DEA agents and prosecutors they worked with.

To move the plan forward, prosecutors said Irizarry filed false reports and ordered DEA staff to transfer funds earmarked for undercover stitches to international accounts that he and his staff controlled. The money should have been carefully tracked by the DEA as part of covert money laundering investigations, prosecutors said.

Irizarry has alleged that the bank accounts in question formed a profitable “slush fund” for official and personal travel by federal law enforcement, US attorneys and confidential sources.

Dominguez said Irizarry took full responsibility for his actions, but his opinion on the conspiracy never exceeded $ 600,000.

On Thursday’s conviction, Irizarry burst into tears speaking in court, saying the greatest punishment was being unable to explain to his two young daughters why he would be away for so long. He said that when he became a federal police officer two decades ago, he did so with great pride.

“Unfortunately, there came a time when I made a decision that went against who I was, that harmed my wife and embarrassed my country,” he said. “I should have known better and didn’t. I failed.”


Mustian answered from New Orleans.