MIAMI (AP) – A once-outstanding American drug dealer known for spending lavishly on luxury cars and Tiffany jewelry, was arrested for conspiring to launder money with the same Colombian drug cartel he was supposed to be fighting.
Jose Irizarry and his wife were arrested on Friday at their home near San Juan, Puerto Rico, on a 19-point charge accusing 46-year-old Irizarry of “his position and special access to information secretly “distracting millions of drug revenues from the control of the drug enforcement administration.
“It is a black eye for the DEA when one of them is involved in such a high level of corruption,” said Mike Vigil, former DEA chief of international operations. “He jeopardized the investigation. He jeopardized other agents and informants.”
Prosecutors in Tampa, Florida, claim that the conspiracy not only enriched Irizarry, but also helped two undefendant co-conspirators, none of whom are named in the indictment. One was employed as a Colombian official, while the other was described as head of a drug trafficking and money laundering organization that sponsored the Irizarry couple’s children in 2015 when the DEA agent was dispatched to the Colombian spa town of Cartagena.
When The Associated Press revealed the extent of Irizarry’s alleged wrongdoing last year, it sent shock waves through the DEA, where its showy habits and stories of rough yacht parties with prostitutes in bikini were legendary among agents
But before Irizarry was exposed, he had been a modeling agent who had received awards and praise from his superiors. After joining DEA in Miami in 2009, he was entrusted with undercover money laundering with front firms, shell bank accounts and couriers. Irizarry resigned in January 2018 after being transferred to Washington when his boss in Colombia became suspicious
The case raised concerns within the DEA that the conspiracy could jeopardize covert operations and turn criminal matters upside down.
“His fingerprints are everywhere on dozens of arrests and charges,” said David S. Weinstein, a former Miami attorney. “It could have a ripple effect and cause the courts to re-examine every case in which he was involved.”
Irizarry and his wife each issued a $ 10,000 bond and were released. The DEA referred a comment to the Department of Justice and messages to Irizarry’s lawyer were not immediately returned.
One of the two nameless co-conspirators in the indictment is Diego Marin, a relative of Irizarry’s wife, according to two people familiar with the investigation who agreed to disclose details only if they were not named because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation. Irizarry-Gomez, 36, was charged with conspiring to launder money.
US and Colombian officials have viewed Marin as one of the biggest suspects of money laundering in Colombia for the past decade. Known as Colombia’s smuggling king, he is said to use drug dollars to import shipping containers full of electronics and textiles from Asia, which are sold at flea markets at a high discount.
Marin was arrested in 1993 for allegedly hiding drug money for the Cali cartel in home appliances in Colombia. But he was never indicted and has since evaded law enforcement by using relationships that have been built over decades as an informant to several U.S. law enforcement agencies, officials said.
It was not immediately possible to find Marin or a lawyer representing him.
A star witness attorney in the case, a former DEA informant treated by Irizarry, celebrated the indictment. Gustavo Yabrudi was sentenced to 46 months in prison last year for participating in a million-dollar money laundering conspiracy.
“Mr. Yabrudi has been waiting for this day for almost two years,” said Leonardo Concepcion. “It is time for the puppet masters who pulled his strings and abused their authority over him to be held responsible for their actions.”
As of about 2011, Irizarry reportedly used his badge’s cover to file false reports and mislead his superiors while instructing DEA staff to keep funds reserved for undercover stings in accounts in Spain, the Netherlands, and elsewhere to transfer which he controlled or was bound to his wife and co-conspirators.
He is also accused of sharing sensitive law enforcement information with his co-conspirators.
The DEA has refused to comment on its use of Irizarry and potential red flags that occurred during its review process. Irizarry was hired by the DEA despite showing signs of showing signs of deception during a polygraph exam and had filed for nearly $ 500,000 in bankruptcy. Nevertheless, he was allowed to process financial transactions after he was hired by the DEA.
Under his leadership, Irizarry and informants handled a total of at least $ 3.8 million, which the DEA should have carefully followed up as part of undercover money laundering investigations.
Not all of the amount was skimmed off by the co-conspirators and put in their pockets. However, the indictment contains at least $ 900,000 paid out from a single criminal account opened by Irizarry and an informant, using the name, passport, and social security number of a third party who did not know their identity was known.
The proceeds from the alleged program funded a real shopping frenzy. It included the purchase of a $ 30,000 Tiffany diamond ring, a BMW, three Land Rovers, and a $ 767,000 house in Cartagena, as well as homes in South Florida and Puerto Rico where the couple lived.
It also funded the purchase of a 2017 Lamborghini Huracan Spyder in Miami on behalf of a family member of Co-conspirator 2.
A red Lamborghini with the same vehicle ID card as the indictment belongs to Jenny Ambuila, who was arrested last year in Colombia together with her father Omar Ambuila, a customs agent in the port of Buenaventura, an important transit point for cocaine and contraband, to use the proceeds hide the sale of narcotics. Before her arrest, Ambuila shared photos and videos of herself on Facebook that posed next to the red sports car worth over $ 300,000.
Omar Ambuila is the other co-conspirator referred to in the indictment, the two people familiar with the investigation said.
The charges were brought a week after another ex-DEA agent was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in a ten-year drug conspiracy that smuggled thousands of pounds of cocaine from Puerto Rico to New York.
Associate press writer Joshua Goodman reported on this story in Miami and AP writer Jim Mustian from New Orleans.
Joshua Goodman on Twitter: twitter.com/APjoshgoodman
Jim Mustian on Twitter: twitter.com/jimmustian