A U.S. federal narcotics agent known for his expensive tastes and high-profile drug seizures has been implicated in a multimillion-dollar money-laundering conspiracy that involved the very cartel criminals he was charged with fighting in Colombia.
A once standout Drug Enforcement Administration agent, Jose Irizarry is accused of conspiring with a longtime DEA informant to launder more than $7 million in illicit drug proceeds, sometimes using an underground network known as the black-market peso exchange, according to five current and former law enforcement officials.
The officials described the case as one of the biggest black eyes in the history of the DEA, an agency that has seen repeated scandals in recent years, and one they fear could have compromised undercover operations in the U.S. and South America.
The conspiracy not only allegedly enriched Irizarry but is believed to have benefited one of South America’s top money launderers, who is a relative of Irizarry’s Colombian wife, said the officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the federal investigation.
The allegations have sent shockwaves through the DEA and drawn new scrutiny to the agency’s Colombia field office, a critical outpost that has been steeped in turmoil in recent years. The division has seen internal strife and turnover in leadership even as it grapples with record-high levels of cocaine production.
Some of the details emerged in a federal case in Tampa, Florida, in which a former DEA informant, Gustavo Yabrudi, a dual Venezuelan-American citizen, recently pleaded guilty to money laundering. That case refers to an unnamed “co-conspirator 3” — a suspect who is in fact Irizarry, the five officials said.
It is unknown where the 44-year-old Irizarry is living, or whether he has been charged in the ongoing criminal probe. Repeated messages seeking comment left on a cellphone number the law enforcement officials said belongs to Irizarry were not returned.
Irizarry also adopted the ostentatious tastes of the drug traffickers he was tasked with targeting. Unlike most agents earning a government salary on temporary assignment, Irizarry bought a home and Land Rover in Cartagena. He traveled first-class to Europe sporting Louis Vuitton luggage and a gold Hublot watch, one official said.
He hosted raucous yacht parties with bikini-clad prostitutes, which fellow agents and at least one supervisor attended against DEA policy, according to an official, who went to one such party. The DEA banned such gatherings in the wake of the 2015 “sex parties” scandal in Colombia that prompted the retirement of the DEA’s administrator at the time.
Investigators are also examining whether Irizarry’s marriage into the mafia was driving his off-the-chart arrest and seizure numbers, the law enforcement officials said. His second wife, Nathalia Gomez, is related to Diego Marin, who U.S. and Colombian officials describe as one of the top money-laundering suspects in the country over the past decade.