DEA agent ac­cused of con­spir­ing with car­tel

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Joshua Good­man and Jim Mus­tian

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.

JOE BURBANK — OR­LANDO SENTINEL

Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion (DEA) agents in Florida in 2016.

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