Late last month, the Office of the Inspector General in the United States released a report on sexual harassment and misconduct in federal law enforcement. The document (PDF) contains an abundance of tawdry case examples—sexting, sharing porn, and solicitation of prostitutes by agents in the FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshals Service, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
But the real grabber, as it were, was the revelation that drug cartel members bankrolled “sex parties” for DEA agents on an anti-narcotics mission in a country the report did not name. The Washington Post subsequently confirmed, to nobody’s surprise, that the country was Colombia.
The sex parties, the report found, took place in homes leased by the United States government for the agents in question between the years of 2005 and 2008. In the convivial atmosphere of the fiestas, at least three supervisory special agents accepted money, expensive gifts, and weapons from members of drug cartels. A Colombian police officer held onto the agents’ service weapons and personal belongings during the parties. The agents subsequently claimed they did not know the prostitutes in attendance were paid with cartel funds. The inspector general’s investigators did not believe them.
Prostitution is legal in certain designated areas in Colombia, and the report refers to the comments of one DEA inspector who said that “the acceptability of this type of behavior affects the way in which federal law enforcement employees conduct themselves in this particular country.” The report says it is common for prostitutes to be present at business meetings involving cartel members and foreign agents. It is also a common practice for DEA agents to consort with known drug traffickers and take part in the narco lifestyle to a degree—but only when the agents are working in an undercover capacity.
Hector Berrellez is a retired DEA supervisor who, when he worked undercover in Colombia, used to invite known drug traffickers to bring their party to an agency safe house disguised as a private home. Everything in the safe house was recorded and every room, even the bathroom, had cameras and microphones in them. But for an agent to consort with known criminals while he is out in the open, he said, is problematic.
“Drug traffickers are not going to pay for a DEA agent’s drinks and women, prostitutes or what have you, unless there is something in it for them,” says Berrellez. “And if DEA agents were involved in that kind of conduct where drug traffickers were paying for their women and booze and partying, then you’ve got the crooks trying to infiltrate the DEA.”
The Inspector General’s report does not mention if the agents in question were undercover when they accepted the expensive gifts from drug-traffickers and attended parties with prostitutes paid for by drug money.
El Tiempo, the largest-circulation daily newspaper in Colombia, investigated the charges in the OIG report and found that cartel members arranged the parties with the knowledge that their fellow partygoers were DEA. The report in El Tiempo cites anonymous sources close to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a paramilitary organization with ties to drug trafficking.
El Tiempo found the sex parties were a backdrop for drug traffickers to explore the benefits of turning themselves in to face justice in the United States. Sources said that in addition to federal agents, lawyers from the U.S. attended the parties.
El Tiempo went on to name three of the men who, its sources said, arranged the parties and encouraged their underworld peers to attend. They were the alleged Colombian drug traffickers Carlos Mario Jiménez alias Macaco, and the brothers Miguel Ángel and Victor Manuel Mejía Múnera, also known as Los Mellizos.
The findings of the El Tiempo report reverberated in the Colombian media but were not picked up in the United States.
“Not everyone came out ahead,” one source is quoted as saying. “Some got nothing in return for the millions of pesos spent on liquor, prostitutes and, on many occasions, drugs.”
Macaco, the newspaper reports, was a “narco-paramilitary” leader who, despite bankrolling and participating in the sex parties, ended up being extradited to the United States and sentenced to more than 30 years in prison for criminal conspiracy and drug trafficking. His surrender, the report goes on to say, was arranged by some of his men who, after a period of cooperation and terms in prison, were able to return to Colombia.
Victor Manuel Mejía, allegedly one of the biggest promoters of the racy gatherings, ended up being killed in a police special operation in Bajo Cauca, a region of the Colombian province of Antioquia, in 2008. According to a source quoted in El Tiempo, Mejía staged his large parties not in the homes of agents in Bogotá but at private estates in Medellín, Copacabana, and La Costa Caribe.
Contrary to the findings in the OIG report, El Tiempo quotes sources to the effect that the agents and lawyers who attended the sex parties preferred the more temperate and lush climes of the coffee-growing region near Medellín to the crisp air and crowded streets of Bogotá. According to one source cited by the paper who claims to have witnessed various of the parties, they lasted several days and were more commonly held at private estates, restaurants, and even at well-known nightclubs rented exclusively for the occasion, rather than in the comparatively modest rented homes of agents.
“They were looking for warm places, with nice views and a swimming pool so the guests felt like kings,” El Tiempo quotes another source as saying.
El Tiempo reports that several foreign lawyers and agents arrived in Colombia to meet with cartel emissaries between 2005 and 2009. The sources say they came in private planes and high-end vehicles. The cartels employed “logistical” personnel who “explored the tastes of the agents,” according to El Tiempo. “These were specialists and they got the guest what he wanted: the kind of liquor he liked, the type of woman he preferred, he got it for him,” El Tiempo quotes an eyewitness as saying.
The agents came seeking to establish contacts in Colombia with individuals who knew the drug business and were open to cooperating as informants. The drug traffickers, for their part, sought to secure benefits for themselves and probe the agents for the contents of the dossiers against them in the United States. This suggests, certainly, that they had few doubts about who the agents were and how they were employed.
“In the middle of the toasts and the party, people got more relaxed and it was easier to begin to ask how bad things looked for the boss in the United States, how much paper did they have on him, and that allowed calculations to be made as to how much money and [how many smuggling] routes had to be handed over to get a favorable deal,” El Tiempo quotes one source saying.
“Through the connections, invitations were made,” says this source, who is supposed to have been an eyewitness, “and after they attended the first party, they didn’t miss any of the parties that followed.”