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.
Angel Jose Perez
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.
The bizarre thing is that despite his convictions and all the arrests, Perez served zero time in prison. "Perez had been cooperating for years, essentially working off cases in the state court in Florida," prosecutors wrote.
Perez also used his time outside prison to visit the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood in 2008 and 2009, where he lost $151,510. Records also show he was driving a series of luxury vehicles, including a Mercedes-Benz, a Range Rover, and a Ferrari F430.
He was required to disclose his gambling to the feds, but they claim he did not. Anyway, his gambling put him in debt, and that was the true motive for what happened next, the feds claim.
On March 25, 2009, Perez contacted his handlers at ICE to claim he had heard that two men wanted Michael Garcia, the former U.S. attorney in Manhattan, "eliminated" and "put into the ground." The source of the assassination plot was "Edwin Pou," who supposedly worked for Ernesto Castillo, the leader of the largest drug trafficking organization in the Dominican Republic. Castillo had been indicted and convicted in New York by Garcia's office.
The U.S. Marshals Service placed Garcia and his family under 24-hour protection. His security detail also included FBI agents and police. "Garcia was forced to experience a unique psychological and emotional stress associated with believing that a team of assassins, hired by a powerful overseas criminal organization, was hunting him at the location where he lived with his family," prosecutors wrote.
Despite Perez's horrendous record as an informant, FBI agents gave him a cell phone to communicate with the supposed hit men. Agents issued numerous orders for pen registers, cell sites, and wiretaps. Perez introduced the two supposed plotters, who were in the Dominican Republic, to an undercover FBI agent. That meeting was videotaped.
Then, in April 2009, ICE agents discovered that Perez was carrying a secret second cell phone to repeatedly contact the two so-called hit men, Edwin Pimentel Tejada and Marco Antonio Abad De La Cruz.
When the feds confronted Perez, he admitted speaking with them on the second cell phone but denied talking about the case.
Meanwhile, Perez demanded money and insisted the government move 27 of his relatives from the Dominican Republic to the United States. ICE began that process, getting them visas and temporary homes.
De La Cruz and Tejada were arrested in the Dominican Republic on May 15 and 16. They told investigators the whole thing was a hoax. Perez had promised to pay the men, both unemployed and poor, $5,000 to play along. Perez, they said, would call in advance of making a recorded call and tell the men what to say to appear like assassins.
When the feds sent an undercover agent with Perez to meet with the presumed assassins in the Dominican Republic, Perez not only secretly revealed the agent's status to the two men before the meeting but also briefed them about what to say.
On June 18, 2009, Perez, De La Cruz, and Tejada pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, impeding official function, and wire fraud. Perez claimed he made $10,000 a year in Miami, had no savings or checking accounts, and lived with his mother.
"As a sophisticated individual and a longtime informant, Perez was doubtless aware that the U.S. Government has offered and awarded millions of dollars in rewards," prosecutors wrote. "It was precisely Perez's status as a longtime informant... that allowed [him] to perpetrate the fraud."
On November 24, 2009, Perez gave a soliloquy to a New York judge: "I live in Florida, and I am working for the government," he began. "My family is in danger in Florida, somebody tried to kill my family in Florida... Why am I here? I need time to speak to my office [ICE handler] to explain exactly what happened. I want to explain to the FBI, call to National Security. I never lied to the government. Never.
"I need to speak to the prosecutor or the FBI to give some information — the true information nobody knows for this case."
Little further of note happened in the case, until September 9, 2010, when Perez, in another monologue to the judge, stated, "I was approximately nine years working for the government... I understand there are a lot of corrupt officers in Miami and Santo Domingo, and it's no good for them if I open my mouth."
This intriguing statement was ignored in court.
By November 8, 2010, all three men had pleaded guilty. De La Cruz and Tejada were soon released, but Perez admitted his deceit to the judge. "I thought [the feds] would pay me for this information," he said. He is awaiting sentencing.
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Meanwhile, Perez, who seems to be kind of the Zelig of Miami criminal activity, also shows up in the prosecution of three men accused of defrauding Bank of America customers. One of those men, Juan Diaz, has claimed Perez conceived the scheme.
The government named Perez as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case but never charged him. And it is fighting efforts to get his ICE handlers to testify, claiming the "public interest" in not disclosing information about Perez's work is more important than the accused man's need for a fair trial. "The public interest in not disclosing information regarding whether Perez was an informant is exceedingly strong," prosecutors wrote.
The reason seems pretty clear.