Bribing the head of an entire nation's anti-corruption task force is apparently cheaper and way less glamorous than you might think. Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivera, who was the director of Colombia's Office of Anti-Corruption, admitted in court today that he could be bought with about $132,000 and that he'd taken a portion of that money inside a bathroom at Miami's Dolphin Mall.
Federal prosecutors indicted Moreno in 2017 thanks to help from Alejandro Lyons Muskus, the former governor of the Colombian region of Cordoba, who worked as a confidential source, according to the Miami Herald.
Lyons was being investigated for corruption by Moreno's own department when a middleman approached the governor in November 2016 and offered a deal: If he paid off Moreno, the anti-corruption chief would disrupt the criminal investigation. Moreno said that, for 100 million Colombian pesos (about $34,500), he'd turn over sworn, confidential statements that witnesses had made against Lyons.
In April 2017, Lyons flew to Miami to help his wife deliver their baby following a high-risk pregnancy. And while here, the governor apparently did some less-than-legal business on the side: He tipped off Colombian officials and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that he was still communicating with Moreno's middleman, Leonardo Luis Pinilla Gomez.
On May 26, 2017, Lyons agreed to meet Pinilla at Dolphin Mall, of all places, a retail mecca near Sweetwater that apparently facilitates both the purchase of cheap guitars at Sam Ash and the full-scale bribery of government officials. The feds said in Moreno's criminal complaint that the governor wore a wire during the meeting — DEA agents also hid nearby and took surveillance photos.
Pinilla warned Lyons that his corruption charges were imminent and that, if paid off, Moreno would do what he could to discredit the witnesses against him. (Moreno and the governor also communicated via encrypted WhatsApp messages, which the DEA claims it cracked.) In all, the feds say, Moreno asked for 400 million Colombian pesos, about $132,000.
The next month, Moreno himself showed up in Miami, ironically, to give an anti-corruption presentation to the IRS. At the same time, Moreno, Pinilla, and Lyons met near Moreno's room at a La Quinta Inn in Doral on June 15. While the DEA agents again watched and listened, Moreno laid out the governor's own bribery allegations and how he'd help the governor beat the case. Moreno seemed to grow paranoid: At one point, he demanded the men speaking outside put their cell phones on the hood of a car to ensure nobody was being recorded. Per the indictment:
At one point during the meeting, after the cell phones had been placed on the hood of the car, the car was moved and the cell phones fell off the hood. Moreno became agitated and demanded that the CS's [cooperating source's] phones be found because of the incriminating information (encrypted communications) they contain. Shortly after this, Moreno discovered an additional cell phone the CS had secreted within the vehicle. Moreno accused the CS of recording the conversation and began to contradict himself stating he was not asking for money and that he was sharing information with the CS because he wanted to avoid an injustice in the CS's case.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Miami New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Miami's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Moreno also allegedly freaked out when Lyons mentioned the bribe — Moreno was recorded saying the bribe was to be discussed only with Pinilla, his intermediary.
The next day, the DEA handed Lyons a manilla enveloped with $10,000 stuffed inside. The governor handed the money to Pinilla, who then met Moreno in a Dolphin Mall bathroom and walked out with him and Lyons. All three met at a car in the parking lot, the DEA says, and the money eventually made its way into Moreno's hands. The DEA says Moreno then sent a bunch of WhatsApp messages asking about the rest of his cash.
On June 18, 2017, Moreno flew back to Bogotá — but before he left, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents found some of the money and photographed it before he was allowed to board a plane. He was arrested on an Interpol "red notice" in Colombia weeks later and finally extradited to the United States this past May.
After pleading guilty today, both Moreno and Pinilla are set to be sentenced in November.