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Former DEA Agents Who Believed They Were “Owners Of Mexico” Ask For A New Trial

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“Sol Prendido” for Borderland Beat

The defense of Manuel Recio and John Costanzo Jr. argues that they invented bribes and deposits, for which they request acquittal or another legal process, in a case that exhibits bad practices in the CIA and the FBI.

Two former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, convicted of “blatantly” working for drug trafficking, are now demanding their acquittal, claiming that Justice Department prosecutors persuaded the jury of their guilt by inventing that they had received bribes, illegal deposits and other crimes gathered in an accumulation of 300 pieces of evidence against them.

The case of Manuel Recio and John Costanzo Jr., who according to an intercept of calls came to celebrate that their links with drug power would lead them to become “owners of Mexico,” also exhibits bad practices by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). , in English) and the Central Investigation Agency (CIA).

On February 27, government prosecutors requested that the former DEA agents’ requests be denied. They maintain that the evidence provided by the government at trial demonstrated each element of the crimes charged, beyond a reasonable doubt.

MILENIO disclosed in 2022 that once-decorated DEA agents Recio and Costanzo Jr. offered VIP services that consisted, according to the allegations, of extracting information from the agency’s systems, such as sealed indictments, open investigations and even the date on which some characters would be detained, to whom the agents would give timely notice. Among those VIP clients were, of course, drug traffickers.

On November 8, 2023, a jury unanimously decided that both were guilty of four counts related to bribery and electronic fraud, for having entered the confidential systems of the DEA from where they extracted information considered secret.

Some evidence was based on intercepting telephone calls; It is clear from them that Costanzo and Recio wanted to negotiate with an active DEA colleague to help them obtain information in favor of a Mexican client, who was one of the targets of the anti-drug agency. It was also revealed that the agents gave expensive dinners and even tickets to see the New York Yankees to the former head of the DEA in Mexico and Central America, Nicholas Palmeri.

VIP clients

A document in the possession of MILENIO reveals that, during the last weeks and in an effort not to annul the trial, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Southern District of New York released names of some who were allegedly clients of Recio and Costanzo: the Venezuelan Marco Antonio Flores Moreno, main supplier of smuggled gold to the Brazilian company MC Agua Mineral; Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman and ally of President Nicolás Maduro, pardoned by US President Joe Biden in a prisoner exchange, and Shirley Herrera Colorado, known as The Godmother of Drug Trafficking in Colombia.

Despite the accumulation of evidence against them, the former DEA agents undertook a battle against their own former colleagues. John Costanzo Jr., who allegedly extracted information about his clients from the Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Information System (NADDIS), recently filed the longest request.

In this he requests to be acquitted of the charges, and if not, that a new trial be carried out. This would be devastating for the Department of Justice, which began this process in 2022, and which has also had to admit that corruption exists within its agencies.

“By doing so [trafficking information], they endangered public safety by revealing sealed indictments and arrests of DEA targets. Recio and Costanzo were convicted by a unanimous jury because of their brazen violation of trust and for providing information that could have endangered their former colleagues and others,” charged powerful prosecutor Damian Williams of the Southern District of New York. 

But Costanzo seeks to protect himself through that country’s Federal Rule 33 of Criminal Procedure, which allows a federal court to grant a new trial to a defendant if justice requires it.

Absolute lies?

The defense of the DEA agents argues one by one the reasons why they consider that the charges against their clients were invented by agencies such as the FBI and the Department of Justice, that is, the organizations that carried out the investigation and the subsequent trial.

According to John Costanzo Jr., during the trial the US Prosecutor’s Office presented the theory that although the special agent had an impeccable and even decorated career within the DEA, work for which he earned a lucrative salary and for which he had been able to accumulate good savings, he became a “rogue” anyway, almost for no reason. “This theory defies common sense,” Costanzo’s lawyers say in court papers.

During the trial, the Prosecutor’s Office recounted how Constanzo gave confidential DEA information to Manuel Recio, another decorated and recently retired agent, who had founded a private investigation and consulting company called Global Legal Consulting, a small firm that provided private investigation services to criminal defense lawyers.

According to prosecutors, Costanzo distributed small payments he received from bribes for his services using his father, Mr. John Costanzo, also a former DEA agent, and his best friend, a former SWAT and former DEA special agent. named Edwin Pagan III.

They now claim that the government did not offer any evidence of how the payments Costanzo made to his father and his friend were related. They argue that prosecutors got the jury to speculate about the sources, amounts and reasons for the alleged bribe payments, and even claim that the witnesses did not even have direct knowledge of the events:

“The government witnesses were little more than narrators who crafted an illogical story. “Much of the case consisted of employees of the Federal Prosecutor’s Office reading graphs they created,” the defense denounced.

To demonstrate “an alleged bribery plan,” the government presented evidence of two payments from Manuel Recio’s company, Global Legal Consulting, to another of former agent Pagan, called JEM Solutions, a consulting firm that provides security, weapons and security services. personal defense from Coral Gables, Florida.

During his statement, Pagan assured that on April 17, 2019, Manuel Recio’s company issued a check to JEM Solutions for $10,000. The former agent assures that this payment was to rent him office space and not a bribe, as the New York Prosecutor’s Office claims.

Edwin Pagan acknowledges that he deposited more money with Costanzo’s father: $10,000, then $1,600, then a check for $50,000 for the purchase of a house. “The government invited the jury to speculate that his company account must have been a slush fund,” says the defense, which maintains that there is not a single piece of evidence to prove this fact.

However, there are three plane tickets that were purchased from Edwin Pagan’s company JEM Solutions, for Constanzo to travel to Washington and Miami. That was the evidence that the Prosecutor’s Office presented to link him with these moneys.

“In a particularly desperate effort to persuade the jury to consider a conspiracy involving Costanzo and Pagan,” the defendants’ lawyers denounce today.

A Miami Lawyer Takes Action

The Prosecutor’s Office also involved lawyer David Macey, from Miami, Florida, a controversial character who caused the dismissal of the then director of the DEA in Mexico, the aforementioned Nicholas Palmeri. In 2021, he spent two days at Macey’s sunny house, on a trip that had no official purpose and violated agency rules.

During the trial, the government argued that Costanzo accepted bribes from David Macey in the form of tickets to a Yankees game, a dinner and a payment to a housing contractor. And that is why he links up with the former director of the DEA in Mexico with corrupt agents.

On April 14, 2019, Costanzo and Macey exchanged messages to go to a Yankees game. The lawyer bought tickets to the game for $1,136. According to prosecutors, Costanzo went to the game with Macey and two other DEA agents, including Nicholas Palmeri.

The Prosecutor’s Office assures that what happened in that game was very important for the illegal operations of the DEA network. To reach that conclusion, they alleged an intervention of messages where the alleged former corrupt agents celebrated that Nicholas Palmeri was the new regional director of Mexico.

Constanzo: “We about to own Mexico. Nic [Nicholas Palmieri] is in.”

Recio: “Really!!!!!!!!”

The first said that they were about to be “owners of Mexico.” Nic is inside”, to which the other responded festively: “Deveras!!!”.

But even with this document, the defense assures that it did not constitute proof that their clients had bribed someone: “None of the seven payment vignettes that the government presented at trial can support a conviction for any of the charges, because the government could not prove that Costanzo received or accepted anything of value in exchange for violating his official duty. “The misleading inferences that the government asked the jury to make should not be allowed,” they say in new pleadings.

What is recognized is that Constanzo carried out searches in the DEA’s NADDIS system, a fact that is minimized by ensuring that he only received a one-time payment of $2,500 in November 2018 to carry out “a series of searches.”

“Accordingly, the most the government demonstrated was bribery, honest services fraud, and conspiracy scheme,” the defense says. “Accordingly, the Court must order a new trial.”

Manuel Recio, the retired DEA agent, was not left behind in his demands: since January 17, 2024, he has “respectfully” demanded that the judge, who has not yet decided his sentence, rule in favor of an acquittal… or a new trial .

In the previous judicial process, which took place between October 23 and November 8, 2023, the jury found him guilty after 12 days of analyzing the evidence. However, it is the judge who must decide what his sentence will be. For now, the number of judicial appeals filed make an immediate sentence impossible.

In the midst of this lawsuit that does not seem to end and exhibits all the bad practices of the US agencies, the New York Prosecutor’s Office reiterated that for more than a year, Recio bribed Costanzo to obtain confidential and sensitive information about the DEA in exchange for a total of 100 thousand dollars.

It was further revealed that during his time as supervisor, Costanzo developed close relationships with Miami attorneys David Macey and Luis Guerra, who have defended criminals and were part of the DEA bribery scheme. “From at least 2015, until October 2018, Costanzo provided Macey and Guerra with inadequate information and access to DEA cases,” prosecutors maintain.

In fact, they claim that since 2018 Costanzo and Guerra met Jorge Luis Hernández Villazón, nicknamed ‘El Boliche’, a former drug trafficker and former paramilitary who at that time was an informal source for the DEA. Hernandez also helped Macey recruit other criminals as clients, with Costanzo’s knowledge.

The accusation adds that Costanzo also leaked information about the indictment date of Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman born in Venezuela, who is under investigation for high-level money laundering and corrupt practices in his country of origin.

Costanzo also provided Recio with inside information about César Emilio Peralta, the Dominican Pablo Escobar, with the intention that Macey and Recio would recruit him as a client and sell him inside information. Costanzo would also share information about DEA witnesses and informants.

One of the clients they managed to recruit in exchange for information from the DEA was Shirley Herrera Colorado, ‘The Godmother of Drug Trafficking’. Recio revealed that the work would be worth 30 thousand dollars.

This February 27, government prosecutors have forcefully requested that the requests of former DEA agents be denied. They maintain that the evidence provided by the government at trial demonstrated each element of the crimes charged, beyond a reasonable doubt.

But for now, the former DEA agents and the prosecutor’s lawyers have nothing left but to wait for Judge James Paul Oetken to finally make a decision.

With it it will be evident which agency committed the most irregularities. Because no one wins here: everyone will be exposed.



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