DEA's Most Corrupt Agent: I Didn't Act Alone

Jose Irizarry on how he turned the 'unwinnable' drug war into 'a very fun game'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 27, 2022 4:40 PM CST
DEA's Most Corrupt Agent: I Didn't Act Alone
Jose Irizarry, a once-standout DEA agent sentenced to more than 12 years in federal prison for conspiring to launder money with a Colombian cartel, speaks during an interview the night before going to a federal detention center, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.   (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

José Irizarry accepts that he's known as the most corrupt agent in Drug Enforcement Administration history, admitting he "became another man" in conspiring with Colombian cartels to build a lavish lifestyle of expensive sports cars, Tiffany jewels, and paramours around the world. But as he used his final hours of freedom to tell his story to the AP, Irizarry says he won't go down for this alone, accusing some long-trusted DEA colleagues of joining him in skimming millions of dollars from drug money laundering stings to fund a decade's worth of luxury overseas travel, fine dining, top seats at sporting events and frat house-style debauchery. "I wasn't the mastermind," Irizarry said.

The way Irizarry tells it, dozens of other federal agents, prosecutors, informants and in some cases cartel smugglers themselves were all in on the three-continent joyride known as "Team America" that chose cities for money laundering pick-ups mostly for party purposes or to coincide with Real Madrid soccer or Rafael Nadal tennis matches. That included stops along the way in VIP rooms of Caribbean strip joints, Amsterdam's red-light district and aboard a Colombian yacht that launched with plenty of booze and more than a dozen prostitutes. "We had free access to do whatever we wanted," the 48-year-old told the AP earlier this month from his native San Juan before beginning a 12-year federal prison sentence.

The revelry was rooted, Irizarry said, in a crushing realization among DEA agents around the world that the drug war was "unwinnable." So they turned it into "a very fun game." Some former colleagues have attacked Irizarry's story—much the same account he gave the FBI after he pleaded guilty in 2020 to 19 corruption counts—as a fictionalized attempt to reduce his sentence. But after years of portraying Irizarry as a rogue agent who acted alone, Justice Department investigators have in recent months begun closely following his confessional roadmap, questioning as many as two-dozen current and former DEA agents and prosecutors accused of turning a blind eye to his flagrant abuses and sometimes joining in. (Read more on that here.)

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