DEA agent accused of conspiring with cartel
MIAMI >> A once-standout U.S. federal narcotics agent known for spending lavishly on luxury cars and Tiffany jewelry has been arrested on charges of conspiring to launder money with the same Colombian drug cartel he was supposed to be fighting.
Jose Irizarry and his wife were arrested Friday at their home near San Juan, Puerto Rico, as part of a 19-count federal indictment that accused the 46-yearold Irizarry of “secretly using his position and his special access to information” to divert millions in drug proceeds from control of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“It’s a black eye for the DEA to have one of its own engaged in such a high level of corruption,” said Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former Chief of International Operations. “He jeopardized investigations. He jeopardized other agents and he jeopardized informants.”
Federal prosecutors in Tampa, Florida, allege the conspiracy not only enriched Irizarry but benefited two unindicted coconspirators, neither of whom is named in the indictment. One was employed as a Colombian public official while the other was described as the head of a drug trafficking and money laundering organization who became the godfather to the Irizarry couple’s children in 2015, when the DEA agent was posted to the Colombian resort city of Cartagena at the time.
When The Associated Press revealed the scale of Irizarry’s alleged wrongdoing last year, it sent shockwaves through the DEA, where his ostentatious habits and tales of raucous yacht parties with bikiniclad prostitutes were legendary among agents
But prior to being exposed, Irizarry had been a model agent, winning awards and praise from his supervisors. After joining the DEA in Miami 2009, he was entrusted with an undercover money laundering operation using front companies, shell bank accounts and couriers. Irizarry resigned in January 2018 after being reassigned to Washington when his boss in Colombia became suspicious
The case has raised concerns within the DEA that the conspiracy may have compromised undercover operations and upend criminal cases.
“His fingerprints are all over dozens of arrests and indictments,” said David S. Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in Miami. “It could have a ripple effect and cause courts to re-examine any case he was involved in.”
Irizarry and his wife posted $10,000 bond each and were released later Friday. Nathalia GómezIrizarry declined to comment to AP and closed the door at the house she shares with her husband, saying he wasn’t home. Messages to Irizarry’s attorney were not immediately returned. The DEA referred comment to the Justice Department.
A lawyer for the star witness in the case, a former DEA informant who was handled by Irizarry, celebrated the charges. Gustavo Yabrudi was given a 46-month sentence last year for his role in a multimillion-dollar money-laundering conspiracy.
“Mr. Yabrudi has been waiting for almost two years for this day,” said Leonardo Concepcion. “It’s time that the puppet masters who pulled his strings and abused their authority over him are made to answer for their actions.”
Starting around 2011, Irizarry allegedly used the cover of his badge to file false reports and mislead his superiors, all while directing DEA personnel to wire funds reserved for undercover stings to accounts in Spain, the Netherlands and elsewhere that he controlled or were tied to his wife and his co-conspirators.
The DEA has declined to comment on its employment of Irizarry and potential red flags that came up during his screening process. Irizarry was hired by the DEA despite indications he showed signs of deception in a polygraph exam, and had declared bankruptcy with debts of almost $500,000.
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in Florida in 2016.