Monday, US DEA Special Agent José Ismael Irizarry and his wife Nathalia Gomez Irizarry pled guilty to all charges in a 19 count indictment brought against the couple for a scheme in which they collaborated with the very narcotraffickers agent Irizarry was assigned to bring to justice, diverting over $9 million USD in ill-gotten drug proceeds to their own personal possession.
The admission calls into question the checks, balances and supervision in place at the DEA since apparently Irizarry was able to move vast sums of public money to private accounts, fail polygraph tests and live a lavish lifestyle that did not coincide with a federal law enforcement officer’s income.
According to the Associated Press, Irizarry had a $767,000 home in Cartagena, Colombia, additional homes in South Florida and Puerto Rico, several Land Rovers, a BMW, a Tiffany diamond ring worth $30,000 and a Lamborghini Huracan Spyder purchased under the name of a family member. The $300,000 Lamborghini seems to connect Irizarry to Jenny Ambuila and her father Omar, who were arrested in Colombia on customs fraud. US officials who requested not to be named, told the AP that the Ambuilas are related to Nathalia Gomez Irizarry.
The Colombian DEA field office is struggling, with record levels of cocaine production in Colombia, despite a government friendly to the US administration, a peace agreement that saw the main group of FARC rebels disarm, and renewed herbicide spraying of coca crops. Despite Irizarry declaring bankruptcy in 2010 and listing half a million USD in debts, the DEA apparently allowed him to continue to manage financial transactions with informants, and government assets.
“Irizarry joined forces with the same criminal drug organizations he promised to investigate and prosecute, “said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak for the Northern District of Georgia. “He and his wife now stand as convicted felons, potentially facing years in federal prison with little to show for the betrayal of his oath to uphold the law.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Wilson accepted the guilty pleas in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Jose Ismael Irizarry, 46, and his wife, Nathalia Gomez-Irizarry, 36, admitted to participating in a seven-year scheme to divert over $9 million in drug proceeds from undercover money laundering investigations into bank accounts that they and co-conspirators controlled. Irizarry and Gomez-Irizarry are scheduled to be sentenced at a later date.
Irizarry filed for personal bankruptcy protection in December of 2010. As part of his plea, he admitted that soon after his bankruptcy was filed he began to exploit his position of public trust as a special agent to divert funds from undercover DEA money laundering investigations to himself and to co-conspirators. Diverted funds were then used to purchase jewelry, luxury cars, and a home. The scheme lasted throughout Irizarry’s assignments to the DEA’s Miami Field Division and to its office in Cartagena, Colombia. Irizarry resigned from the DEA in January of 2018.
Irizarry also admitted that he and his criminal associates opened a bank account with a stolen identity and then utilized the account to secretly send and receive drug proceeds from active DEA investigations. Gomez-Irizarry admitted that she allowed her bank accounts and a Florida corporation in her name to be used in the scheme. By his own admission, Irizarry was in personal bankruptcy proceedings for nearly the duration of his criminal conduct and failed to disclose any of his illicit income to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
Irizarry pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, honest services wire fraud, bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, conspiracy to commit identity theft, and aggravated identity theft. Gomez-Irizarry pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder monetary instruments.
Trial Attorneys Joseph Palazzo and Mark A. Irish of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine of the Northern District of Georgia prosecuted the case.
According to the US Justice Department, the FBI, HSI, Justice Department’s OIG, DEA, and IRS-CI investigated the case with contributions from former Assistant U.S. Attorney James Mandolfo and investigators William Campbell and Paul Serletti. The U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section’s Judicial Attaché’s Office in Bogota, Colombia, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the District of Puerto Rico, Southern District of New York, and the Eastern District of Texas, the Colombian Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalia General de la Nacion), the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, and the South Florida Money Laundering Strike Force at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office provided additional assistance.
Photo courtesy US DEA