Former D.E.A. Agent Sentenced to 12 Years in Drug Money Scheme

A former special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to taking part in a wide-ranging conspiracy that used cash seized in undercover drug operations to buy jewelry, cars and a house in Colombia, prosecutors said.

The former agent, Jose Ismael Irizarry, 47, and his wife, Nathalia Gomez-Irizarry, pleaded guilty in September to charges that they carried out a seven-year scheme to funnel more than $9 million from undercover drug investigations into bank accounts that they and their co-conspirators controlled.

One of those co-conspirators was the leader of a Colombian drug-trafficking organization who became godfather to Mr. Irizarry’s children, according to federal prosecutors in Tampa, Fla.

Mr. Irizarry pleaded guilty to charges that included conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, honest services wire fraud, bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

Ms. Gomez-Irizarry pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. She was sentenced in December 2020 to 60 months of probation and ordered to forfeit a Tiffany diamond ring, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General.

Mr. Irizarry, who had worked for the D.E.A. in Miami, Cartagena, Colombia, and Washington before he resigned in 2018, was arrested in February 2020 along with Ms. Gomez-Irizarry near their home in San Juan, P.R.

In a 19-count indictment, Mr. Irizarry was accused of engaging in a “corrupt scheme” while he was assigned to investigate money laundering by drug-trafficking organizations. The indictment accused Mr. Irizarry of “enriching himself by secretly using his position and his special access to information to divert drug proceeds from D.E.A. control to the control of himself and his co-conspirators.”

One co-conspirator was identified in the indictment as a public official in Colombia, who prosecutors said had used drug money to buy a $329,000 Lamborghini Huracán Spyder from a Miami car dealership.

Mr. Irizarry was accused of using drug money to buy a Land Rover and a home in Cartagena. Prosecutors said that Mr. Irizarry had admitted that he began exploiting his position as a federal agent to enrich himself and his co-conspirators soon after he filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

The indictment described a sprawling scheme in which Mr. Irizarry filed false reports on investigations, prompting a ripple effect that caused his colleagues at the Drug Enforcement Administration to falsely document the details of wire transfers, unwittingly concealing the source of drug profits that he controlled.

Ms. Gomez-Irizarry was accused of running a shell company out of the couple’s home in Miramar, Fla., that had no employees and sold no goods but was used to take in and distribute the money her husband collected, the indictment said.

“Former Special Agent Irizarry abused the trust of the American people when he repeatedly violated his oath as a federal law enforcement officer,” Anne Milgram, the D.E.A. administrator, said in a statement on Thursday. “Bringing him to justice reflects the principles of those who faithfully serve and uphold the values of D.E.A.”

At his sentencing in federal court in Tampa, Mr. Irizarry wept and said that his biggest punishment was not being able to explain to his two young daughters why he would be gone for so long, The Associated Press reported. He said he had been proud when he became a federal agent two decades ago.

“Unfortunately, there came a time when I made a decision that went against the person who I was, that damaged my wife and embarrassed my country,” Mr. Irizarry said, according to The A.P. “I should’ve known better and I didn’t. I failed.”

Mr. Irizarry’s sentencing came after another former special agent with the D.E.A., Chad Allan Scott, was sentenced in August to more than 13 years in prison after he perjured himself and directed others to commit perjury to obtain a conviction against an accused drug dealer, prosecutors said. Mr. Scott also falsified forms so that he could take possession of a truck that a drug dealer bought for him, prosecutors said.

Mr. Irizarry’s lawyer, Maria A. Dominguez, blamed the culture at the D.E.A. for encouraging such crimes.

“Jose was not a leader or the author of this conduct,” she said in an interview on Thursday. “It was conduct that he encountered when he first joined the D.E.A. He was corrupted in that sort of environment, which disrupted his moral compass.”

While sentencing Mr. Irizarry, Judge Charlene Honeywell condemned the D.E.A. for its failings and said other agents corrupted by “the allure of easy money” should be investigated, The A.P. reported.

“This has to stop,” Judge Honeywell said, according to The A.P. “You were the one who got caught, but it is apparent to this court that there are others.”