By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
In March 2009, immigration agents in Miami transmitted an urgent message to the FBI: Dominican narcotics traffickers had put out a contract on Michael Garcia, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Alarm bells sounded. A plot to assassinate a man who had been one of the most powerful and prominent law enforcement officials in the country was a big deal.
The FBI quickly dispatched agents, U.S. marshals, and police to provide around-the-clock guards for Garcia, who had left for private practice in 2008. Federal agents ordered a range of wiretaps, dumped phone records, and sent agents to the Dominican Republic.
Three months and $2.5 million in investigative costs later, the threat turned out to be a hoax. And the mastermind of the scam turned out to be a longtime paid confidential informant for both U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Florida authorities. He was Angel Jose Perez, a 30-year-old Dominican native living in Miami.
Worse, Perez was a convicted sex offender before he was granted confidential informant status. And while being paid by authorities in exchange for dubious information, he had continued to commit violent and nonviolent crimes for eight years, records show.
Perez had been convicted of felonies in 2005 and 2007 but was allowed to remain out of prison for years. He actually fooled the feds twice — once involving the Garcia plot and a second time regarding a 2007 money laundering investigation when the feds smuggled $500,000 cash from Puerto Rico to the Dominican Republic but arrested no one.
All of this was hidden for years — until New Times obtained a sentencing memo in the Garcia case. Several questions remain: Why did the government allow Perez to continue as an informant? Why did agents put up with illegal behavior and lack of credibility? How much was Perez paid? Did he ever provide any useful information?
Prosecutors, defense lawyers, investigators, and federal agents alike either didn't respond to inquiries or refused to comment. (Garcia also did not respond to inquiries.) Prosecutors even sealed more than a dozen official documents in the Garcia case file. "We don't discuss our investigative techniques," Nestor Yglesias, a spokesman for the ICE Miami field office, said.
Perez's New York lawyer Irving Cohen and his Florida attorney Amanda Maxwell declined to comment. And Perez wasn't available for an interview, but he made two statements in court last year, defending himself and saying he never lied to the government.
A Miami defense attorney familiar with Perez's activities over the years says, "We've got this system that rewards people for cooperating and creates a huge incentive for individuals like Perez to fabricate and implicate people. Moreover, he continues to commit crimes knowing that he has a safety valve, and the government seems to turn a blind eye to what he's doing."
Angel Jose Perez arrived in the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1999 at age 20. The next year, he was charged with felony sexual battery, felony false imprisonment, obstruction of justice, six probation violations, and giving a false name. He also pleaded guilty to falsely impersonating a U.S. citizen and lying on a passport application.
He was convicted of the sexual battery and false imprisonment charges and then ordered to register as a sex offender, which he failed to do.
Perez continued committing crimes in 2002, when he was charged with six offenses including probation violations and fleeing police. The next year, ICE signed up Perez as a confidential informant. It's unclear whether he was recruited or what information he provided.
In 2005, Perez was arrested on 11 counts of fraud and one count of auto theft. The following year, he was charged with carjacking and grand larceny, among many other crimes. ICE then "deactivated" Perez as an informant, not because of his arrests but "based on his failure to provide any useful information."
From jail, he contacted ICE agents and claimed someone named Miguel Pou had called him wanting to launder $10 million by moving it from Spain to the Dominican Republic. Pou, he claimed, was the head of a major Dominican drug organization. ICE recorded some phone calls and then reactivated Perez as an informant. "The Pou investigation led to a series of failed meetings in Spain with people Perez identified as representatives of the Pou organization," the sentencing memo states.
Then, in 2007, Perez set up a seemingly successful undercover money laundering operation. On October 26, an ICE agent received $500,000 cash in Puerto Rico from an alleged member of the Pou drug organization, and agents delivered half of it to someone in Miami and the other half to a man in Santo Domingo, who turned out to be a friend of Perez's family and, according to the man's lawyers, was never involved in any illegal activity.
Indeed, after the money was delivered, "ICE was unable to identify or arrest any of the purported members of [the lawbreaking]
organizations," the sentencing memo reads.
So, in essence, federal agents illegally smuggled $500,000 across three national borders on Perez's behalf and didn't get a single arrest. Nor did they develop any useful information.
Also in 2007, Perez was arrested for carjacking with a firearm, robbery, theft, grand theft, and attempting to intimidate a witness. He eventually pleaded guilty to carjacking, grand theft, forged use of a personal identification card, and fraud worth more than $50,000.