Instead of fighting cartel criminals in Colombia, one US narcotics agent has been implicated in a multi million dollar money laundering scheme involving them. Jose Irizarry, a once heralded DEA agent, is now accused of conspiring with an informant to launder more than $7 million in drug money, sometimes using an underground network called the black market peso exchange, according to a new report by AP.
Officials who spoke about the case called it "one of the biggest black eyes in the history of the DEA", which has been plagued with scandals over the last few years. They also believe that the case could compromise undercover operations that are ongoing in South America and in the United States.
Not only did the scheme benefit Irizarry, but it is also believed to have worked to the benefit of a top money launderer in South America, who is also a relative of Irizarry's. The DEA's Colombia office continues to draw scrutiny and has fallen deeper in turmoil as a result, even though Colombia is producing record high levels of cocaine. Some of the details emerged when a former DEA informant pled guilty to money laundering. That case referred to an "unnamed co-conspirator" who turned out to be Irizarry.
It’s currently unknown where Irizarry is living or whether not he’s been charged in the ongoing criminal probe. A former attorney that represented him in a bankruptcy case provided no comment to AP and a Miami defense attorney who also represented him once did not return comment.
Irizarry had resigned from the DEA after he was recalled from Colombia to Washington in 2017.
The controversy has raised new questions about DEA screening practices and how it hires. Irizarry was hired despite the fact that he showed signs of deception during a polygraph exam and he was permitted to handle financial transactions in his role despite filing for bankruptcy in 2010 with over $500,000 in debt.
Prior to his scheme being uncovered, he was known as a model agent who often won the praise of his supervisors. He was initially based out of Miami before he won special permission to set up an undercover operation to send money and ship contraband to Colombia using front companies. His investigations helped lead to numerous arrests and earned him his transfer to the much coveted location of Colombia, where his offices were in the resort city of Cartagena.
“He was the superstar everyone wanted to be,” one former law enforcement official told AP.
In Gustavo Yabrudi's case - Irizarry's informant - Yabrudi testified that he knew money he was giving Irizarry was for him acting outside of the scope of his authority as a DEA agent. His lawyer described the case as involving "serious corruption" by a DEA agent.
It was also said that at times, Irizarry faked DEA seizure orders to pocket money. His clients often chalked up the losses to the normal course of business in money laundering. And Irizarry started to embrace the lifestyle of the drug traffickers that he was supposed to be busting. He bought a home and a Land Rover in Colombia, he often traveled first class to Europe with Louis Vuitton luggage and he reportedly hosted yacht parties with bikini clad prostitutes, where fellow DEA agents and at least one supervisor were said to have attended.
This all, of course, despite the fact of the DEA banned these types of gatherings after the 2015 sex party scandal that prompted the retirement of the agency's administrator at the time.