A former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent was sentenced on Thursday to 145 months, or more than 12 years in federal prison, for conspiring to launder money with a Colombian drug-trafficking organization.
Jose Irizarry, 46, broke down in tears as he addressed the court at the sentencing. He said the biggest punishment was not being able to explain two his two young daughters why he would be going away for so long. He said when he became a federal law enforcement agent two decades ago he did so with a sense of great pride.
“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,” he said. “I should’ve known better and I didn’t. I failed.”
Irizarry and his wife, Nathalia Gomez-Irizarry, 36, had pleaded guilty in September 2020 to participating in a seven-year scheme, using Irizarry’s position as a special agent to divert over $9 million from undercover DEA money laundering investigations to himself and to his co-conspirators.
The couple pleaded guilty to all counts in a 19-count indictment unsealed against them in February 2020—this included Irizarry pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering, 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 commit money laundering.
According to the indictment and Irizarry’s plea agreement, the scheme began shortly after he filed for personal bankruptcy protection in 2010. Irizarry and his co-conspirators used a stolen identity to open a bank account under false pretenses. The account was used to receive diverted drug proceeds from active DEA investigations.
Prosecutors alleged that in return for money laundering and carrying out the fraud scheme, Irizarry received bribes and kickbacks of at least $1 million for himself and his family, which he used to fashion a lavish lifestyle that included buying a $30,000 Tiffany diamond ring for his wife, luxury sports cars, and a $767,000 home in the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena—where he had initially been sent to investigate money laundering by Colombian drug cartels.
His attorney, Maria Dominguez, said Irizarry accepted full responsibility for his actions but maintained that his take of the conspiracy never surpassed $600,000.
Irizarry was also ordered on Thursday to pay $11,233 in restitution and forfeit his interests in the diamond ring and a luxury sports car.
At the conclusion of the sentencing in Tampa, Florida, U.S. District Judge Charlene E. Honeywell ordered Irizarry to begin serving his term of imprisonment immediately.
He was remanded into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service for transfer to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Meanwhile, Gomez-Irizarry had been sentenced to 60 months probation in late 2020.
“Irizarry betrayed his oath to serve and instead used his position to further the criminal activities of a violent drug cartel while enriching himself,” Special Agent in Charge Brian Payne of IRS-Criminal Investigation said in a statement. “While his actions represent an egregious breach of the public trust, they are in no way a reflection of the overwhelming majority of special agents who serve with honor and integrity.”
“Former Special Agent Irizarry abused the trust of the American people when he repeatedly violated his oath as a federal law enforcement officer,”Administrator Anne Milgram of the DEA said in a statement. “Bringing him to justice reflects the principles of those who faithfully serve and uphold the values of DEA.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.