José Irizarry accept that it is known as the most corrupt agent in the DEA story and admits that he “became another man.” conspiracy with the Colombian cartels create a lavish lifestyle with sports cars, Tiffany jewels and lovers all over the world.
However, in the past few hours it has been released and used to tell its story to the Associated Press, Irizarry says it will not fall by itself.
He accused DEA colleagues of join him in stealing millions of dollars undercover operations to launder drug money to finance themselves a decade of luxury travel abroadmeals in excellent restaurants, the best seats at sporting events and tumultuous partiesin the style of a college fraternity.
A walk across three continents
According to Irizarry, dozens of other federal agents, prosecutors, whistleblowers and, in some cases, the cartel smugglers themselves all agreed. cross three continents no consequences as part of the call “Team America” (Team America) who collected the money from money laundering in the cities he has chosen to be able to celebrate or coincide Real Madrid football matches or Rafael Nadal’s tennis tournaments.
This included stops along the way VIP lounges for strip clubsthe red light district of Amsterdam and aboard a Colombian yacht sailing full of booze, loud music and more than a dozen prostitutes.
“We had a free hand to do whatever we wanted,” Irizarry, 48, told the AP in a series of interviews before starting a 12-year federal prison sentence. And once there, it was all booze and girls.”
This whole party started, Irizarry said, from a shared understanding among DEA agents around the world that there’s really nothing they can do to hurt the world of drug trafficking. If anything, his concern was building cases to try to stem the illegal flow of cocaine and opioids into the United States that causes more than 100,000 overdose deaths a year.
“You can’t win an unwinnable war. The DEA knows it and the agents know it,” Irizarry said. “There’s so much drugs coming out of Colombia. And there’s so much money. We know we don’t make any difference .”
“The War on Drugs is a game… It was a very fun game that we were playing”.
Irizarry has been attacked by some former colleagues who say that his accusations are only trying to reduce his sentence. The agent’s story was told to the AP during several days and even hours before losing his freedom, in conversations where he sometimes showed regret, bitterness and even tears.
The interviews were conducted in the historic area of his native San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. What he said was pretty much the same thing he said to the FBI, recorded in lengthy interrogations and sealed court documents obtained by the AP after he pleaded guilty in 2020 to 19 allegations of corruptionincluding money laundering and bank fraud.
But after years of portraying Irizarry as a rogue agent acting alone, U.S. Justice Department investigators have made an abrupt change of direction in recent months and followed the road map he mapped out in his confession.
Authorities questioned about two dozen active and former DEA agentsas well as prosecutors accused by Irizarry of willfully ignoring his flagrant abuses and sometimes joining them.
Without attracting much attention, the investigation focused on a former Irizarry associate in the DEA, who led a comfortable life, and several trusted colleagues charged with fighting international money laundering.
In addition, at least three current and former federal prosecutors were questioned for attending raucous parties with the Irizarry group, including a high-ranking prosecutor in Miami, another who appeared on “The Bachelorette” television show and a former US prosecutor. ‘Ohio. who had been confirmed this year to serve as a United States attorney in Cleveland, before abruptly retiring for unspecified family reasons.
The growing investigation comes as the United States’ top anti-drugs authority he was rocked by repeated misconduct scandals among its ranks, consisting of 4,600 agents.
The charges range from one agent who took bribes from traffickers to another accused of leaking classified information to agency targets. But the biggest spot is Irizarrywhose massive betrayal of the badge is the focus of an ongoing external review large foreign operations of the DEA of 69 countries.
The once-great agent accused former Miami-based DEA Group 4 colleagues of lining their pockets and falsifying reports to raise funds used for overseas travel for nearly a decade, until his resignation in 2018. He accused a US immigration and law enforcement officer of accepting a $20,000 bribe. Recently, the US Office of the Inspector General interviewed Irizarry in prison about other federal employees and allegations of misconduct in maritime interdiction operations.
“It was too outlandish for them to believe it was actually happening,” Irizarry said of the investigators’ disbelief. “The prosecution paints a picture of me, the rogue agent who pulled off the whole conspiracy. But He doesn’t talk about the rest of the DEA. I was not the mind.”
The federal judge in Tampa, who sentenced Irizarry last year, appears to agree, saying other agents have been bribed by the “lure of easy money.” need to be investigated. “This has to stop,” outraged Judge Charlene Honeywell told prosecutors, adding that Irizarry was “the one that got caught, but it’s clear to this court that There are others”.
The Justice Department declined to comment. A DEA spokesman said: “José Irizarry he is a delinquent that he violated his oath as a federal law enforcement officer and violated the trust of the American people. Over the past 16 months, the DEA has worked vigorously to further strengthen our discipline and hiring policies to ensure the integrity and effectiveness of our essential work.”
The AP was able to corroborate just a few of the allegations made by Irizarry through reviewing thousands of confidential law enforcement reports and dozens of interviews with those familiar with the officer’s allegations and the criminal investigation into course, including many who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it.
The research focuses in part on George Zoumberosone of Irizarry’s former colleagues who has traveled the world to investigate money laundering.
Irizarry told the AP that Zoumberos enjoyed unlimited access to the calls funds fees, and misused that money for personal purchases and unwarranted travel, using names of people who didn’t exist in DEA reports to justify the excesses.
Zoumberos continued as a DEA agent even after being arrested and briefly detained on charges of sexual assault during a trip to Madrid in 2018. He resigned after being stripped of his weapon, badge, and security clearance, and after invoking his Fifth Amendment rights to remain silent in late 2019 when the same prosecutor who charged Irizarry said he called to testify before a federal grand jury in Tampa.
The authorities are so focused on Zoumberos that they too they summoned his brother, a Florida wedding photographer who sometimes traveled with DEA agents, and was even granted immunity to encourage him to cooperate. But Michael Zoumberos also refused to testify and has been jailed outside Tampa since March for “civil contempt,” an extremely rare pressure tactic that underscores the growing strain on the investigation.
“I haven’t done anything wrong, but I won’t talk about my brother,” Michael Zoumberos told the AP in a prison interview. “I’m basically being held as a political prisoner by the FBI. They want to force me to cooperate.”
Some current and former DEA agents claim that Irizarry they are exaggerated or completely made up.
A former customs and immigration law enforcement officer laughed at Irizarry’s claim that he received a $20,000 bribe, saying he was the one who turned on the first red lights on Irizarry. And the Zoumberos brothers’ attorney says prosecutors appear determined to bring more charges because of the shame of the Irizarry scandal.
“Everyone associated with José is unaware of his thefts,” said attorney Raymond Mansolillo. “They’re looking for a crime that fits this case rather than a crime that actually happened. But whatever happens, they’re going to charge someone because they don’t want to get out of this after five years and they only charged José.
What makes the misconduct Irizarry describes more outrageous is that it all came on the heels of a 2015 Inspector General report that he slammed DEA agents for attending “sex parties” with prostitutes taken over by the Colombian cartels. This led to the suspension of several agents and the retirement of Michele Leonhart, the DEA administrator at the time.
A central part of Irizarry’s investigation is the overly welcoming relationships the agents have developed with informants and lax controls on DEA sting operations to launder drug money that few Americans know exist, but generate a huge amount of money.
Money Laundering DEA
Every year, the DEA launders tens of millions of dollars on behalf of the cartels of the most violent drugs in the world through shell companies.
The agency defended the use of such operations, pointing to lengthy overseas investigations such as the so-called Operation “White Wash”, which resulted in more than 100 arrests and the seizure of over $100 million and a ton of cocaine.
But the DEA has also been criticized for letting large amounts of money flow, allowing the cartels to continue their activities. Also not to closely monitor and track covert operations, which makes it difficult to evaluate the results.