DEA Agents Accused in Court Pleadings of Dealing Heroin As Part of 1990s Pakistan Connection
Agents — Two Since Retired, One Now Leading High-powered Task Force — Call Claims “Absurd” and “Despicable”
A top gun with the DEA’s Special Operations Division, along with two fellow law enforcers, are not what they seem, if Gaetano (Guy) DiGirolamo Sr., a convicted heroin dealer, is to be believed.
The trio are, in fact, drug dealers themselves, argues Yale law professor Steven B. Duke in court pleadings filed on behalf of his client, DiGirolamo.
Those pleadings are part of a long-running effort by DiGirolamo to get his 1994 conviction overturned by the court. To date, DiGirolamo, who is serving a life sentence in a federal penitentiary in Otisville, N.Y., has failed to convince the judicial system of his point of view.
However, documents recently provided to Narco News by DiGirolamo (uncovered years after his conviction), as well as revelations that have surfaced recently in the case of national security whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, seem to open the door to reasonable doubt in the government’s case against DiGirolamo.
As for the three DEA agents involved in his case, they have long maintained that DiGirolamo’s allegations against them are without merit.
One of those agents, Derek Maltz, now serves as the special agent in charge of the high-powered and secretive Special Operations Division, a multi-agency task force under DEA’s umbrella that targets transnational criminal organizations.
The other two agents who helped send DiGirolamo up the river, David Katz and Michael Yanniello, have both since retired from DEA. Yanniello now serves as chief of university police for SUNY College at Old Westbury in New York. Katz is the CEO and founder of a security consulting firm called Global Security Group, based in New York City.
Yanniello, when contacted via e-mail by Narco News for comment, replied simply that DiGirolamo’s “allegations are absurd.”
Katz, in a telephone interview with Narco News, says DiGirolamo’s claims are “beyond absurd,” describing them as “despicable.”
DiGirolamo tried to “solicit” a contract “to have me murdered,” Katz alleged during a phone interview with Narco News, adding that there is a transcript of the surveillance tape on which that threat is made.
Well, that is where the facts in the DiGirolamo case begin to get a bit slippery, if the court pleadings filed by Duke are put in the picture.
The alleged murder plot surfaced on the word of a jailhouse informant sicced on DiGirolamo while he was in prison, according to court pleadings. In a 1998 letter written to the judge in the case, attorney Duke points out that the U.S. prosecutor claimed to have the “murder plot on tape,” adding that the allegation “was either a lie or a recklessly irresponsible misrepresentation.”
“We have the tape (obtained under FOIA),” Duke wrote “There is nothing remotely related to violence or retribution on it.”
DiGirolamo’s run-in with the system — the DEA specifically — led to his indictment in 1991 and conviction in 1994 on heroin-related conspiracy charges in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
DiGirolamo appealed his conviction, only to lose again in 1995. At that point, Duke, a professor of law at Yale Law School in New Haven, Conn., stepped in, and took on DiGirolamo’s case pro bono. In 1997, Duke filed a post-conviction petition [a habeas corpus appeal] with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York seeking to vacate DiGirolamo’s conviction.
“In December 1999, (the federal judge) dismissed the entire case in one of the most bizarre opinions I have ever seen,” Duke says. “... Essentially, (the judge) said it didn’t matter if the DEA agents were corrupt smugglers.”
DiGirolamo appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Last year, the appeals court ruled against DiGirolamo, not on the merits, but because he “did not file a timely notice of appeal.” As a result, the appeals court concluded, “we lack jurisdiction to consider the denial of his habeas petition.”
But it is the merits of DiGirolamo’s case that continue to keep bubbling to the surface, even after all these years. In particular, new documents provided to Narco News by DiGirolamo seem to raise some puzzling questions with respect to the nature of the sting used by the three DEA agents (Maltz, Katz and Yanniello) to snare their targets.
One of those documents is a DEA Telex communication that details a proposed itinerary for DEA agent Maltz to travel from New York to Pakistan to take delivery of 20 kilos (some 44 pounds) of heroin from DEA’s office in Karachi.
Maltz made that journey in late November 1990 and returned with the heroin on Dec. 4, 1990. During the return trip, according to court pleadings filed by Duke, Maltz flew on commercial airliners (TWA and Air France) and made one stop in Paris before returning to New York with the heroin.
The heroin run was allegedly part of a controlled delivery, which is a standard law enforcement procedure that involves allowing a load of drugs, under close supervision, to be delivered to suspects in order to set them up for arrest.
In this case, because the heroin was passing through at least two foreign countries, DEA would have had to obtained clearances from those countries — Pakistan and France. In addition, law enforcers tell Narco News, in a normal controlled delivery, the “take down” (or arrest) of the suspects is usually accomplished very shortly after the drugs enter the U.S..
“We never let it [the drugs] out of our sight [in a controlled delivery] and took down the bad guys within hours of the stuff arriving,” one law enforcer says.
In the case of Maltz’ heroin run to Pakistan, he was not acting in an undercover capacity, according to Duke’s court pleadings, but rather as a courier seemingly absent close surveillance of his activities. In addition, Duke alleges in the court filings that Maltz never produced proof that his heroin “controlled delivery” mission involving Pakistan had the proper approvals, including the required country approvals.
The DEA Telex document obtained by Narco News (see document here) is interesting in that is seemingly shows that Maltz was approved to travel to Pakistan on Nov. 25, 1990, with a connecting flight in Frankfurt, Germany. The return flight, according to the Telex, also was supposed to go through Frankfurt as well — with the appropriate country clearance slated to be obtained form the German government for the transportation of the heroin through that nation.
However, in a follow-up communication on Nov. 27, 1990, the document shows, the fly-out date for Maltz trip to Pakistan was changed to Nov. 29. In addition, in a separate document, a DEA report of investigation prepared by a Karachi-based DEA agent, a notation appears indicating that the Pakistan Narcotics Control Board on Nov. 26, 1990, approved the “exportation of 20 kilograms of heroin from Karachi, Pakistan, to New York,” but it makes no mention of a similar approval from the government of France, where Maltz allegedly flew next after leaving Karachi with the heroin, according to court pleadings in the DiGirolamo case.
One law enforcer who examined the paperwork for Narco News says “the Telex's are legitimate to me, just incomplete as far as I can see, or just plain sloppy, or missing stuff on purpose.”
Duke appears to believe the latter scenario is the case.
In 1998, he wrote a letter to the judge in DiGirolamo’s case:
Previously suppressed DEA reports, obtained by us ... describe three months of feverish activity in the New York area trying to deliver the heroin to … "distributors." Despite many claimed conversations with … with CIs [confidential informants] and with … alleged distributors, no deliveries are consummated, just a lot of talk.
According to the DEA agents in this case, the 12 kilos of white heroin [out of a total of 20 kilos] brought by agent Maltz from Pakistan in December 1990 were finally delivered to [DiGirolamo’s] co-defendant [Louis] Salerno and became evidence in this case with his arrest on April 9, 1991.
Then, in court pleadings, Duke points out that it took months for the heroin imported by Maltz from Pakistan to be put to use in “taking down” suspects — as opposed to hours as is normally the case, according to law enforcement sources, in a standard controlled delivery:
... Nobody can be found to take delivery of any drugs [brought in from Pakistan by Maltz] until five months after their arrival.
Duke argues, in the 1998 letter to the judge:
The agents were engaging in their own smuggling operation, for the purpose of selling the drugs and using "stings" as a cover for their operation.
... Maltz concocted a "plan" to get a drug supply in Pakistan without paying for the drugs, bring them here for illicit purposes, and cover his tracks with phony paperwork. ...
DiGirolamo was accused of acting in conspiracy with Salerno to take possession of the heroin, all based on the word of an informant, court records show. And the one undercover tape-recording in which DiGirolamo is supposedly caught discussing the conspiracy is mysteriously inaudible, Duke claims in court pleadings.
DiGirolamo, in recent e-mail and phone interviews with Narco News from prison, contends he had nothing to do with that heroin deal.
The other co-conspirator in the case, an individual named Khan, according to DEA agents, was arrested in the United Arab Emirates UAI) and imprisoned, awaiting a death sentence.
However, DiGirolamo's attorney obtained a letter from the UAE embassy indicating they "have no record of Mr. Khan being imprisoned in the country."
The private investigator on DiGirolamo’s case, a former cop who worked pro bono due to his belief in DiGirolamo’s innocence, also dug up evidence that the now-vanished Khan served as an informant for the U.S. government in a prior case and suggests that he is not a co-conspirator, but rather that Kahn continued to work for the government as an informant in DiGirolamo's case — which, if true, would appear to make the case against DiGirolamo a fraud.
Where’s the Dope?
The supposed kingpin of the Pakistani heroin organization being targeted by Maltz, Katz and Yanniello was an individual named Jan, according to the DEA.
However, according to Duke’s court pleadings, Jan claims that he was working for the DEA, supplying heroin for delivery to the U.S. "with the expectation that the buyers would be arrested and he would get a reward.”
Duke also argues in court pleadings that there is no evidence to show that Khan even knew Jan or did business with him. So, Duke asks, how could DiGirolamo be part of the Jan organization if his supposed co-conspirator, Khan, never did business with the supposed source of the heroin, Jan?
The government, by contrast, denies that Jan or Khan ever worked as informants and contends the balance of the allegations raised by Duke on behalf of DiGirolamo are absurd and untrue.
From the government’s pleadings in DiGirolamo’s post-conviction appeal case:
DiGirolamo … argues that his trial counsel was ineffective because he 1) failed to claim that Hizbullah Khan was an informant and 2) failed to claim that there was no Jan organization, and that Special Agent Maltz was using the pretense of investigating the supposed Jan organization to mask the agents’ narcotics trafficking.
As set forth above, neither claim has merit. Accordingly, the failure to raise either claim could not have been error.
However, yet another set of documents provided to Narco News by DiGirolamo appears to raise a whole new series of questions with respect to the veracity of the case that the DEA agents brought against him.
From Duke's pleadings:
... On April 2, 1991, Malik [a DEA informant] met Louis Salerno at a diner on Long Island. Malik told Salerno he had 12 kilograms of ninety percent pure white heroin, and he was willing to turn it over to Salerno for $100,000. Malik's courier charge for transporting it from Pakistan. Salerno asked for a sample so he could test it.
... On April 8, 1991, Malik met Salerno. Salerno said that the sample was "fine" and that he would have the $100,000 courier fee the following day. After a series of telephone calls the following day, Salerno and Malik met again in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn at the Plainview Plaza. Salerno gave Malik a bag containing $100,000. Malik took the money inside the hotel while Salerno remained in the parking lot.
After giving the money to DEA agents, Malik went back to the parking lot and told Salerno that Malik's friend would arrive in five minutes with the heroin. Shortly thereafter, DEA agent Michael Yanniello drove into the parking lot and put the heroin in the trunk of Salerno's car. Malik told Salerno that everything was done and asked Salerno to call him to "discuss the rest." Malik walked away, and DEA agents arrested Salerno.
But years later, DiGirolamo’s lawyer, Duke, discovered that the heroin put in the trunk that day may not have been heroin at all.
From another 1998 letter Duke directed to the judge in DiGirolamo's case:
At petitioner's trial, the DEA agents testified that 20 kilos of heroin were brought by agent Maltz from Pakistan in December 1990, and that 12 kilos of that shipment were ultimately delivered in a sting operation to co-defendant Salerno in April 1991. No drugs were ever produced at trial. Instead, a photograph was offered together with a stipulation. The stipulation had never been approved by either of the defendants, even though it had a place for their signature, which remained blank.
... FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] documents recently obtained show that the packages turned over to the DEA lab by agents Maltz and Yanniello were never even tested for heroin. According to the lab documents, these items were to be weighed and identified only, per agent Yanniello and per agent Maltz. The work sheets suggest that while some rough screening tests may have been done, no actual determinations were made that the powders were heroin, much less that they contained the purities set forth by AUSA [Assistant U.S. Attorney] Burns in the stipulation. [See lab report here.]
On yet another front, Duke says a witness has come forward who claims to have purchased heroin from individuals fitting the description of the DEA agents in the DiGirolamo case. The witness, Louis Perez, a former cop who is serving a life sentence in a federal prison on drug conspiracy charges, claims the heroin he and his one-time partner, Jesus Vargas Morales, acquired in those deals in Queens, N.Y. (some 40 ounces a week at $6,000 an ounce) were in turn sold on the streets of Philadelphia. [See Perez affidavit here.]
The government discounts the Perez’ claims, arguing he disgraced his badge and is a convict whose word is not credible.
However, Duke contends he has made numerous requests of government prosecutors for various records, including phone numbers, that would help substantiate or disprove the claims being made by Perez, but “all those requests have been ignored.”
Former DEA agent Katz says he finds incredulous the claims that DiGirolamo is an innocent man who was somehow framed.
He spelled out his position in a phone interview with Narco News:
The reason he [DiGirolamo] keeps losing on appeal is he did it [the crime].
… I would be happy to testify under oath to any element of the case. I remember monitoring the undercover calls. He did it.
There was nothing inappropriate done in the case. It was basic undercover case and he was completely complicit in the whole crime.
… [DEA agents] Maltz and Yanniello are two of the best agents I ever worked with. They are honest guys, and any suggestion that they were involved in heroin trafficking is beyond absurd. These guys were as opposite that as you can imagine. For people to suggest otherwise is despicable.
DiGirolamo, now 77, concedes he has done wrong in the past and has paid the price. He spent much of the 1980s (1984-1990) in federal prison after being convicted of distributing some 164 grams of cocaine over a two-year period. He was out of prison about a year when he was indicted on the heroin-related charges.
DiGirolamo says he “deserved to go away” on the cocaine charges, but insists he is innocent of the heroin-related charges and is now sitting in prison “for the crimes of others.”
In an e-mail to Narco News, DiGirolamo describes his dilemma:
Because of my background is associations with assumed O.C. [organized crime] friends, the government is using that card to distort the truth. I expected this to happen and I know that many nights I lay awake in my cell looking at the ceiling wishing that I would have went down a different road.
I do not want to play the pity card, because that is not me. I am above all else a man of honor, and I do not mean the honor the government would have you believe.
When injustice is the only means by which the government uses to convict a person, then we as a nation have failed.
DiGirolamo’s claim that he has been framed may seem, to some, like a predictable act of desperation on the part of a man who is now confronting the prospect of his death in prison.
That may or may not be so.
But one thing is clear: the strangeness of the truth DiGirolamo wants us to believe does not automatically make it fiction.
Likewise, the dark reality of the heroin trade itself is no less true simply because those accused of dabbling in it are not deemed the usual suspects — as evidenced by the allegations of former-FBI-translator-turned-whistleblower Sibel Edmonds.
Edmonds was born in Iran but spent much of her early life in Turkey before moving to the United States for college. After graduating, she wound up working in the criminal justice field and was eventually hired by the FBI in 2001 as a contract translator.
Edmonds’ walk down the path of the American dream came to an abrupt end in March 2002, though, when she was fired by the FBI — after blowing the whistle on alleged espionage being carried out by a fellow FBI employee. She was prevented from pursuing a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit filed in 2002 (based on alleged violations of her First Amendment rights) because of the state-secrets privilege claim invoked by the government. That claim essentially shut down her ability to present evidence in the case under the smokescreen that it would threaten national security.
The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately rejected her appeal in that case. Several related lawsuits filed by Edmonds also were subsequently derailed with the hammer of national security.
But Edmonds was not about to be silenced, and recently came forward — both through court testimony and via the media — with revelations concerning matters the U.S. government has for years now sought to secret away in the closet of dirty tricks.
According to Edmonds, roughly within the same time period of DiGirolamo’s indictment and ultimate conviction (the 1990s), U.S. officials based in Central Asia, specifically Turkey, were involved in a pattern of alleged corruption that included links to heroin trafficking.
It is not clear whether that alleged activity represented only corruption for personal gain or was part of a larger covert operation to advance U.S. interests in the region — including Pakistan, where DEA agent Maltz allegedly obtained the 20 kilos of heroin brought to New York.
It may, in fact, have been a bit of both.
As described in Edmonds allegations, the corrupt activity brought together drug traffickers, assassins and individuals associated with the governments of the U.S., Israel, Pakistan and Turkey toward various ends — including blackmailing or otherwise influencing members of the U.S. Congress; obtaining and reselling U.S. military secrets; and engaging in arms-for-drugs shipments, specifically heroin, to help fund covert activities in Central Asia.
From an interview Edmonds provided to the American Conservative magazine:
EDMONDS: … A lot of the drugs were going to Belgium with NATO planes. After that, they went to the UK, and a lot came to the U.S. via military planes to distribution centers in Chicago and Paterson, New Jersey. …
In under-oath testimony (link here) Edmonds provided recently in a case before the Ohio Elections Commission, she lays out the central role that Turkey played in the drug-smuggling operations:
… These Turkish people, and some of them are directly connected to Turkish intelligence and Turkish military in the United Sates, they played a very significant role in bringing in heroin from … Afghanistan to Turkey, [and] from Turkey into both United States, [and] also directly to Belgium, large quantity, very, very large quantity of heroin.
In a recent interview with Narco News, Edmonds pointed to an incident that occurred in New York City in 1995, one year after DiGirolamo’s conviction on heroin charges. The incident involved the arrest of Yasar Oz — a known Turkish heroin trafficker who is suspected of working as an asset for both Turkish and U.S. intelligence agencies.
A DEA agent (name unknown) arrested Oz, Edmonds says, in New York City on Dec. 6, 1995, with some 12 kilos of heroin — and while he was supposedly carrying Turkish diplomatic papers. Edmonds' recounting of the incident is backed up in a 1997 story in CovertAction Quarterly, a respected publication on such matters:
The special perks and privileges given Catli, a drug dealer and suspected killer, were not unique. Haluk Kirci, his accomplice in a series of murders during the Gray Wolves days, and Yasar Oz, another international drug smuggler, also carried similar [Turkish Green Passport] documents signed by Agar.
… The links between one of Turkey's most prominent security officials and organized criminals and fascist assassins were now incontrovertible.
… [Turkey’s Republican People's Party Deputy Fikri] Saglar charges that US interest in Turkish affairs is not confined to official NATO relations and trade ties. He points to the notorious message by the CIA's then-Turkey Station Chief Paul Henze in Ankara to his colleagues in Washington the day after the 1980 coup — "Our boys have done it!" Henze crowed. Saglar concludes that foreign intelligence organizations, including the CIA, have co-opted collaborators from among the extreme-right and exploited them for their particular interests.
Saglar's charge is lent credence by the fact that Yasar Oz — one of the drug traffickers carrying the Green Passports signed by [Turkey’s Interior Minister] Mehmet Agar — was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Administration in New York and immediately released.
Oz supposedly "escaped" DEA custody 6 hours after his arrest in 1995 and flew out of JFK International Airport on a Turkish airline, Edmonds claims. He's still alive and kicking in Turkey – the owner of a casino who is now doing jail time and beginning to reveal secrets, news reports indicate.
Edmonds also points to the research of University of Wisconsin Professor Alfred McCoy, referencing an entry on her bog, 123 Real Change, that touches on his research into the heroin trade in Pakistan.
From Edmonds blog:
In his well-researched book, The Politics of Heroin, Professor Alfred McCoy documents the parallel increase in Heroin production in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the 1980s when the U.S. Government collaborated and supported the Mujahidin directly and indirectly. While in 1979 Pakistan had a small and local opium trade and produced no heroin, by 1981, according to U.S. Attorney General William French Smith, Pakistan emerged as the world's leading supplier of heroin, became the supplier of nearly 60% of U.S. heroin supply, and took over major sections of the market in Europe.
[McCoy writes:] “Who were the manufacturers? They were all either military factions connected with Pakistan intelligence, CIA allies, or Afghan resistance groups connected with the CIA and Pakistan intelligence. In May of 1990, ten years after this began, the Washington Post finally ran a front page story saying high U.S. officials admit that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar [leader of the Hezbi-i Islami guerilla group], and other leaders of the Afghan resistance are leading heroin manufacturers. This had been known for years, reported in the Pakistan press, indeed in 1980 reported in McClean's magazine. In fact in 1980 a White House narcotics advisor, Dr. David Musto of Yale University, went on the record demanding that we not ally with Afghan guerilla groups that were involved in narcotics.”
McCoy also documents interesting phenomena involving the DEA operations and actions (or inaction) in Afghanistan during the 80s:
[McCoy writes:] “During the 1980's from the time that heroin trade started, there were 17 DEA agents based in Pakistan. They neither made nor participated in any major seizures or arrests. At a time when other police forces, particularly Scandinavian forces, made some major seizures and brought down a very major syndicate connected with former president Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan.”
Narco News was not able to confirm any connection between Katz, Maltz or Yanneilo and the catch-and-releases arrest of Oz.
However, Maltz, as special agent in charge of DEA’s Special Operations Division (SOD), clearly has a foot in the intelligence world. One DEA agent who spoke with Narco News says part of what the SOD does is overt, but part of it also is classified — to the point where the agent could not even discuss the nature of that classified work.
Narco News attempted to contact Maltz for this story through DEA’s public affairs office. However, neither the DEA nor Maltz provided a comment for this story prior to deadline.
Former DEA agent Katz also has an interesting resume, serving prior to his retirement from the agency as its liaison to the Israeli Secret Service. Katz even provided training in 2000 to instructors with the Israeli General Security Agency (Shin Bet, now called the Israel Security Agency) — considered to be part of the Israeli intelligence apparatus.
According to information on his company’s Web site, Global Security Group currently employs former “U.S. and Israeli agents” and has “trained the EXP staffs of some of the world's most high-profile executives and high-net worth individuals.”
Katz even wrote a book with a former Israeli secret service officer, called the “Executive's Guide to Personal Security,” and has made appearances on numerous TV news shows, including Fox, CNN and CNBC.
Katz' Global Security Group also recently opened an office in Thailand that is headed by a “former senior supervisory special agent” with DEA "who spend 20 years working in Thailand with senior officials within the Thai law enforcement community," according to the company’s Web site.
However, Katz dismisses any implication that his work on DiGirolamo’s case in the early 1990s had anything to do with the intelligence world.
“The DEA liaison role [with Israel’s Secret Service] was to provide basic law enforcement support and mutual training [with respect to tactics]. I was in that role long after the DiGirolamo case, like late 1990s or 2000,” Katz told Narco News.
With respect to any possible intelligence connection to DiGirolamo’s case, Katz added: “Your talking way above my pay grade. I was just a regular field agent and tactical weapons instructor.”
As for DiGirolamo, he is not backing down from his contention that he was set up to take the fall for actors more powerful that himself.
But DiGirolamo also realizes he is facing the ultimate deadline for making known what he deems to be the truth of is life:
My life is coming to a close. I turned 77 and I know that the clock is running out on me. My only wish is that I want to expose the corruption that permeated this case and has cost me 19 years of my life. To them, it is just the cost of doing business.
I do not expect miracles. I know what I am up against, but time is not on my side; it is on the side of the government. They would like nothing better than for me to pass on and not have to worry about me uncovering them.
Stay tuned ….