A top Drug Enforcement Agency agent laundered millions in drug money and hosted wild parties with prostitutes, according to law enforcement officials who fear he may have permanently compromised the DEA’s undercover Colombian ops.
Jose Irizarry, once praised for his high-profile drug busts, laundered over $7 million in cocaine cash, collaborating with a long-time DEA informant to skim plenty for himself off the top, five current and former law enforcement officials not authorized to speak about an ongoing investigation told the AP.
The officials revealed that Irizarry is the unnamed “co-conspirator 3” in a federal case against DEA informant Gustavo Yabrudi, a dual Venezuelan-American citizen who pleaded guilty to money laundering in a federal case in Tampa, Florida in September.
Irizarry spent lavishly, throwing wild parties on yachts with prostitutes – parties attended by his fellow DEA agents, a practice the agency banned after an embarrassing 2015 Department of Justice Inspector General report – and flaunting designer goods like the drug dealers he was locking up by the dozen.
“He was the superstar everyone wanted to be,” one of the officials said.
His downfall was an $87,000 wire transfer meant for a Cali trafficker that vanished in transit – the trafficker, unbeknownst to Irizarry, was an informant as well, and complained to the Justice Department. At the same time, an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tip alerted the DEA to the fact that he had been falsifying paperwork to re-route informant payments to himself.
The criminal probe has been ongoing since last April and it is not known whether Irizarry has been charged. His whereabouts are unknown, and a DEA spokeswoman says he left the agency in 2017 after being recalled to Washington from Colombia. Sources with knowledge of the investigation said last year that not only was the DEA investigating Irizarry, but the Department of Justice’s Inspector General office and the FBI were as well – and that they believe the DEA’s undercover Colombian operations may have been compromised. Current and former DEA officials say the case may be “one of the biggest black eyes in the history of the DEA.”
As a star agent, Irizarry won permission from the DEA to set up his own “undercover operation” using front companies, shell bank accounts, and couriers to send money and ship contraband merchandise to Colombia – all on behalf of suspected drug traffickers whose circle he had married into. He deposited the traffickers’ money into an account Yabrudi opened for him, using the money to buy goods that were shipped to Colombia.
Over the course of six years, more than $7 million was funneled through the account. In his guilty plea, Yabrudi admitted to withdrawing cash and giving it to “co-conspirator 3,” – Irizarry. The agent even drew up fake “seizure orders” and bank letters to siphon off more money for himself from the drug proceeds he was laundering, pretending “the feds” had seized it. The traffickers wrote it off as the cost of doing business. And business was booming – officials believe Irizarry was deliberately targeting his wife’s family’s rivals for his numerous busts.
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