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A man dubbed 'the most corrupt agent in the history of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)' claims that agents, prosecutors, informants and cartel drug smugglers partied together at strip clubs and brothels all over the world.
José Irizarry, 48, opened up before beginning a 12-year prison sentence for operating a money laundering and fraud scheme.
He implicated dozens of people in a scheme dubbed "Team America", where agents would line their pockets from money laundering stings to fund a lifestyle of debauchery.
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According to Irizarry, the group would organise bogus work trips, partying across three continents, attending high-profile sports events and dining at the world's fanciest restaurants.
Whether they were making it rain in Carribean strip clubs, hanging out with prostitutes in Amsterdam, attending Real Madrid matches or boozing on Colombian yachts – he claims they lived like VIPs.
"We had free access to do whatever we wanted," he told AP.
"We would generate money pick-ups in places we wanted to go. And once we got there it was about drinking and girls."
Prosecutors say the foreign jaunts were bankrolled by $9million (£7.56m) Irizarry and his cartel co-conspirators diverted from money laundering investigations.
Irizarry also ordered DEA staff to wire money earmarked for undercover stings to accounts he and his associates controlled.
Informants, who got commission on cash transfers sanctioned by the DEA, would also fund the revelry.
Soon Irizarry was mimicking the spending habits of the cartel bosses he was tasked with taking down. He blew $767,000 (£644,000) on a home in Cartagena, Colombia, and gifted his wife a $30,000 (£25,000) Tiffany diamond ring.
“I was very good at what I did but I became somebody I wasn’t,” Irizarry said. “I got caught up in the lifestyle. I got caught up with the informants and partying.”
US government money was also used, with reports labelling hefty expenditures as "case-related".
Recounting one particular incident in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo in 2014, Irizarry alleged that Michael J. Garofola, a then-Miami federal prosecutor, joined agents and cartel informants for a night at the Doll House strip club.
Garofola has said trips included official business and that he was told everything was being paid for by the DEA.
He told AP: "I was brand new and green and eager to work money laundering cases. He [Irizarry] used me just by my being there."
Irizarry also recalls seeing Marisa Darden, a prosecutor from Cleveland, at a party in his Cartagena home in 2017, where two DEA agents were allegedly taking ecstasy. He added that he didn’t see Darden taking drugs.
"There is no evidence that she participated in any illegal activity," Darden’s attorney told AP.
Some of Irizarry's former colleagues have slammed his claims as an attempt to reduce his sentence, but US Justice Department investigators have started following his confessional roadmap.
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“It was too outlandish for them to believe this is actually happening,” Irizarry said of investigators.
Some two-dozen current and former DEA agents and prosecutors have been questioned, with the probe focused in part on George Zoumberos – one of Irizarry’s former partners who resigned in 2019.
A DEA spokesperson said: “José Irizarry is a criminal who violated his oath as a federal law enforcement officer and violated the trust of the American people. Over the past 16 months, DEA has worked vigorously to further strengthen our discipline and hiring policies to ensure the integrity and effectiveness of our essential work.”
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