Ex-Miami DEA Agent Allegedly Part of Huge Colombian Drug-Money-Laundering Ring

Ex-Miami DEA Agent Allegedly Part of Huge Colombian Drug-Money-Laundering Ring
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While living in Cartagena, Colombia, Jose Irizarry allegedly held lavish yacht parties with bikini-clad prostitutes. He took first-class flights to Europe and brought along some Louis Vuitton luggage and a gold Hublot watch. He funded his lifestyle by stealing cash from Colombian drug dealers and engaging in schemes to launder money between Colombia and South Florida.

He was also a top U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency employee.

Last September, the federal government charged Gustavo Yabrudi, a dual Venezuelan-American citizen, in Tampa federal court with conspiracy to commit money laundering. Yabrudi has since pleaded guilty. But court documents in those cases list four "co-conspirators" who worked alongside Yabrudi in South Florida and Latin America: Three of those four lived in Miami-Dade County, according to court records. "Co-conspirator 3" was listed as "a resident of Miami-Dade County, Florida, and Colombia who worked as a Special Agent for the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)."

The Associated Press yesterday reported that Irizarry was the third conspirator and that Yabrudi had been working as Irizarry's DEA informant. (Witnesses said in court transcripts that Yabrudi helped arrange money "pick-ups" between drug dealers and undercover DEA agents.) Unnamed sources within the federal government told the AP that Irizarry is now the subject of a criminal probe and that his alleged corruption scheme is one of the biggest black eyes in DEA history. Given Colombia's status as a haven for drug traffickers, the agency considers its Colombian offices some of the most important in its (failed) global War on Drugs. Irizarry was described as a "star" agent in Miami who racked up tons of high-profile arrests before he was promoted and moved to Cartagena. He declared bankruptcy in 2010 but, by the time he moved to Colombia, was somehow throwing yacht parties. His second wife was also reportedly related to the Colombian mafia.

New Times could not independently confirm the AP's details. But court documents allege the five conspirators would skim cash from Colombian drug sales in the United States, ship it back to Colombia, and convert it to Colombian pesos using extremely favorable, black-market Colombian money-exchange programs. The feds said the group moved $7 million that way. In some cases, the group allegedly used a Miami-based cell-phone company to buy goods using dirty money and then export the phones to Colombia to be sold for pesos. Prosecutors also stated in recent court filings that Yabrudi worked with Irizarry to open bank accounts across Florida, into which the two deposited money from drug sales.

Court records allege Irizarry also helped the group steal funds from the DEA.

"It was also part of the conspiracy that conspirators would and did obtain illegal drug proceeds held in DEA undercover accounts," which the group laundered back into Colombia, a September 2018 government-forfeiture document reads. Prosecutors later added that Irizarry "provided conspirators, including Yabrudi and Co-Conspirator 4, access to funds contained in DEA undercover accounts." The other conspirators then allegedly paid kickbacks to Irizarry.

Of course, Irizarry began to trip up. The AP reported yesterday that the feds caught onto his scheme when the agent began brazenly stealing from the DEA and screwing up legitimate agency business. In one case, an $87,000 wire transfer to a Cali Cartel drug trafficker went missing. But that trafficker was apparently an informant for the Miami-Dade County Money-Laundering Strike Force. County cops then complained to the Justice Department, which reportedly led to Yabrudi's arrest.
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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.