Colombian Anti-Corruption Head Gets Four Years in Prison After Bribe in Miami Mall Bathroom

Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivera, the man formerly in charge of weeding crooked people out of Colombia's very corrupt government, was sentenced yesterday to four years in federal prison for accepting an envelope full of bribery cash inside a Dolphin Mall bathroom.

The case is as wild as Miami crimes get. While working as the top anti-corruption cop in Colombia, Moreno agreed to tip off the targets of investigations and taint criminal cases for a nominal — and illegal — fee. The scheme worked well until the former governor of the Colombian region of Cordoba, Alejandro Lyons Muskus, told U.S. and Colombian authorities about Moreno's scheme.

A middleman from Moreno's office had approached Lyons, who was being investigated for corruption, in 2016. The intermediary agreed to provide a bunch of confidential statements from the investigation if the governor forked out 100 million Colombian pesos (about $34,500). Lyons could then have used those documents to taint the case or get ahead of investigators.

Moreno's bribery squad handled the case with the trademark tact and secrecy of Miami financial crimes. They hung out at a roadside motel and then tried to hand Moreno's people a wad of cash in the Dolphin Mall can. In early 2017, while on a flight from Colombia to Miami, where his wife would give birth after a high-risk pregnancy, Lyons alerted U.S. investigators to the scheme.

Then, on May 26, 2017, Lyons agreed to meet Moreno's right-hand man, a lawyer named Leonardo Luis Pinilla Gomez,  at the Dolphin Mall, the sprawling shopping complex in West Miami-Dade. Lyons agreed to wear a wire and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency cops took up posts nearby. Pinilla demanded 400 million Colombian pesos and warned Lyons his own corruption arrest was imminent. Lyons also began communicating with Moreno through the messaging app WhatsApp. The group agreed to meet the following month to hand over the cash.

The next month, Moreno flew to the U.S. to deliver an anti-corruption lecture. He met with Pinilla and Lyons at a La Quinta Inn, where he was recorded hollering that he was worried about being recorded or double-crossed. (He was correct.) The next day, the trio gathered at the Dolphin Mall. This time, Lyons handed Pinilla a manilla envelope with $10,000 in marked U.S. bills inside. Pinilla then huddled with Moreno inside a bathroom. The pair emerged and the money eventually made it into Moreno's hands.

On June 18, while Moreno was flying back to Colombia, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents found the cash and photographed it. Moreno was then arrested on an Interpol "red notice" weeks later. He was extradited to the United States and charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Prosecutors announced yesterday that Pinilla was also sentenced to two years in prison for helping facilitate the bribe. The U.S. Attorney's Office had asked judge Ursula Ungaro to sentence Moreno to seven to nine years in prison — but, according to the Miami Herald, she refused, since Moreno has also been sentenced to five years imprisonment whenever he gets back to Colombia.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.