DEA Prostitute Scandal Isn’t Agency’s Only Trick
Drug-War Agency’s Latin America Operations Tarnished By A Pattern of Unaddressed Corruption Allegations
The current scandal over Colombian narco-traffickers paying prostitutes to provide sex services to DEA agents has an even deeper footprint in the agency than the current head of the DEA has conceded, court records stemming from past DEA operations reveal.
A March report by the Department of Justice Inspector General’s office that first revealed the allegations publicly indicates the sex parties with DEA agents and prostitutes in Colombia played out between 2005 and 2008. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart wasn’t made aware of those activities until around 2012, according to the IG report.
“This has been a very difficult week for DEA, with members of Congress and the media asking tough questions and sharing our outrage about the disgraceful conduct of a few individuals several years ago,” DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart states in an email sent to employees earlier this month.“This employee misconduct has upset me for many reasons, but especially because it calls into question the incredible reputation DEA has built over more than 40 years.”
The House Oversight Committee, which is investigating the charges, recently released a report based on DEA documents that indicates some of the illicit activities in Colombia actually date back to 2001 but involved only a handful of agents.
Court records reviewed by Narco News, however, show DEA agents in Latin America were hooking up with prostitutes as far back as the late 1990s as part of a much broader pattern of alleged corruption involving DEA’s operations in Colombia.
A 2002 internal DEA report filed as an exhibit in a DEA agent’s wrongful termination lawsuit includes claims that a narco-trafficker and money launder turned DEA informant “prepaid the services of prostitutes” for as many as five DEA agents in Panama in the late 1990s. Those agents were assisting an operation that was making use of one of the more interesting characters in the shadows of the drug war.
That individual, Baruch Vega, served as a “foreign intelligence source” for the CIA, litigation documents reveal, while also doing work for the DEA and FBI in Latin America. As part of his work for the DEA in the late 1990s, Vega played the role of a broker of sorts charged with convincing key narco-trafficking figures in Colombia to negotiate favorable plea deals with the US government, court records reveal. Some of those narco-traffickers then went on to serve as cooperating sources for U.S. agencies, according to Vega.
Many of the negotiations with the Colombian narco-traffickers took place in Panama with DEA agents present, Vega claims. He described the DEA agents’ liaisons with prostitutes as a “very normal” part of the process.
“We would go for dinner with these narco-traffickers to negotiate their surrender to DEA, and after they would say, ‘Lets invite some girls,” Vega recounted in a recent interview with Narco News. “Then everyone would go out somewhere and the narco-traffickers would hire prostitutes to mingle with the agents, and the narco-traffickers would pay for it. This happened on several occasions in Panama, and in Colombia as well.”
Vega said the prostitutes didn’t know their clients were DEA agents, “but it’s possible when the narco-traffickers hired the girls, they told them they were agents.” He added that the ironic part of the arrangement was that the narco-traffickers would be “dating beautiful models” while the DEA agents would “be with the prostitutes.”
The 2002 DEA internal report is a small puzzle piece in a much larger web of intrigue and alleged corruption involving DEA’s operations in Colombia. Another piece of the puzzle surfaced in a leaked memo drafted in 2004 by a DOJ attorney named Thomas Kent. In that memo, Kent referred to DEA operations carried out in Colombia in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He alleged that DEA agents in Bogota were on the payroll of narco-traffickers, engaging in money laundering for Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary groups, and conspiring to murder their own informants to protect their corrupt schemes.
Mike Levine, a former deep undercover DEA agent who now serves as an expert court witness, said the rot inside DEA is far deeper than the current “sexcapade” scandal. In a legal case involving Colombian narco-traffickers as DEA targets that Levine recently investigated as an expert witness, he said he “documented something like $20 million in funds stolen by DEA and/or task force agents.”
“One agent was actually convicted of stealing $1 million,” Levine added. “When I testified about documenting the [other] lost millions, the federal judge ordered the [DOJ] Inspector General to conduct an investigation. Now two years goes buy and nothing.”
The Kent memo alleges that officials within DEA whitewashed the findings of their investigation into the corruption he and various DEA agent whistleblowers uncovered in DEA’s Colombia operations. DEA, which is part of the DOJ, contends the corruption charges outlined in the Kent memo have no merit.
The House committee’s probe into the current sex-party revelations has revealed that no agent involved in the activities was suspended for more than two weeks. However, in the wake of the Congressional probe into the scandal, DOJ announced that DEA administrator Michele Leonhart will be stepping down from her post next month.
In reaction to the announcement about Leonhart, House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings said, “The IG’s report exposed the bad behavior that was allowed to fester for more than a decade, and our Committee’s hearing shined a spotlight on the lack of accountability for these abuses.”
Levine, however, contends there is a far deeper problem within the culture of DOJ and DEA leadership that needs addressing as evidenced by the recurring pattern of abuses and corruption over the years that only seems to get addressed with a slap on the wrist years after the fact, if at all.
“[If] there is no accountability whatsoever in government, how can we expect less than these frat boys with badges misbehaving?” Levine said. “Believe it or not, dumping Leonhart is way downhill from where the buck should stop.”