A veteran Drug Enforcement Administration agent working out of the agency’s Washington, DC headquarters is accused of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for internal agency secrets, prosecutors said Friday.
John Costanzo, Jr., 47, shared “non-public DEA information, including information about upcoming sealed indictments and non-public investigations, such as the identities of defendants and the expected timing of arrests; and information Costanzo obtained from a confidential DEA database,” read an indictment unsealed in federal court in Manhattan.
Costanzo, who allegedly used a so-called burner phone to throw investigators off the trail, spent the money on repairs to his Porsche, plane tickets and a $50,000 down payment on a condo, the filing says.
The FBI says Costanzo shared the sensitive data “as needed” with former DEA Deputy Special Agent Manuel Recio, 53, who worked at the Miami field office until his retirement in 2018. He then began working as a private investigator for defense attorneys in Miami, using privileged information to help them recruit new clients and stay one step ahead of the government in court, the indictment said. In addition to providing limited data, the filing alleges that while on the DEA payroll, Costanzo actually “assisted Recio in his work as a private investigator on behalf of indicted defendants.”
Both men face one charge of conspiracy to commit bribery, one charge of conspiracy to commit honest service fraud and one charge of honest service fraud. In addition, Constanzo is accused of taking a bribe – from Recio – and Recio is accused of paying a bribe to Costanzo.
Costanzo joined DEA in 2004 and has worked at DEA headquarters since 2019. Prior to that, he was a group leader in the agency’s Miami field office and past president of the Association of Federal Narcotics Agents.
In a statement emailed to The Daily Beast on Friday, Costanzo’s attorney, Marc Mukasey, said: “John Costanzo is an excellent DEA agent who risks his life every day to protect vulnerable communities and children from the scourge of illegal… protect drugs. The theory of this case is misguided and it will be confirmed.”
Recio, whose phones were reportedly tapped by federal agents for a time in 2019, was an agent specializing in illicit finance and was described by former employees last year as soft-spoken and friendly. His firm, Global Legal Consultants, “conducts investigations for attorneys, private companies, corporations and individuals in South Florida and throughout the United States,” according to its website. “We are based in Miami, Florida and specialize in investigations in South America, Central America, Europe, Australia and the Caribbean.”
Reached by phone, Recio’s attorney, Phil Reizenstein, told The Daily Beast that he has COVID and has not yet had an opportunity to fully review the charges. However, he said, “I know about the bribery thing — that’s no surprise here.” Prosecutors allowed Recio to quietly surrender, which Reizenstein said he appreciated.
Still, he pointed to what he described as various weaknesses in the government’s case and said he believed Recio would choose to go to court.
The ranks of the DEA have been hit hard by allegations of serious misconduct in recent years. On May 12, former DEA agent Nathan Koen was sentenced to 11 years and 3 months in federal prison for accepting thousands of dollars in bribes from a drug dealer. Last August, former DEA agent Chad Allen Scott was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison for, among other things, accepting a truck from a drug dealer and committing perjury in court. Another agent, José Irizarry, was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for helping a Colombian drug cartel launder its ill-gotten gains. According to the Associated Press, Recio once directed investigations Irizarry was working on.
The scheme allegedly carried out by Costanzo and Recio can be traced back to November 2018, prosecutors say. Prior to his departure from the DEA, Recio met with a defense attorney, referred to only as “Attorney-1” in the indictment, to discuss Recio’s plan to form his new firm.
Although Attorney-1 is not named in court filings, one of the attorneys who engaged Recio’s services shortly after his retirement was identified by the AP in 2020 as Luis Guerra of Miami, who represents a list of alleged Colombian drug traffickers and money launderers . However, it was not clear whether Recio’s alleged work for Guerra was included in the indictment.
Costanzo, like all DEA agents, had access to an internal computer database called the Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Information System, or “NADDIS”. The system contains records and reports of individuals investigated by the DEA, as well as individuals associated with the agency’s objectives.
“Because DEA investigations are typically kept confidential until they result in indictments of individuals, and to protect the integrity of those investigations, the information in NADDIS is confidential and DEA policy prohibits DEA agents from disclosing that information except.” to other law enforcement agencies,” the indictment said.
On July 31, 2019, Costanzo reportedly told Recio about “the imminent and confidential plans to arrest a high-level drug trafficker” who prosecutors say Recio was trying to recruit as a client for Attorney-1.
The trafficker, identified in court documents as “DEA Target-5,” was charged in an indictment that was still sealed at the time, and the FBI says Costanzo told Recio that Target-5 “would be gone in two weeks.” . ”
“About three weeks later, the DEA unsuccessfully attempted to arrest DEA Target-5,” the indictment said.
A few months earlier, Recio had allegedly texted Costanzo that said, “John, I need your help to see if you can help me find one of these guys. You looked before and said the names were closed [sic] vague but [Attorney-1] puts me under a lot of pressure.”
Recio sent Castanzo six names and a phone number, asking Costanzo to “direct it,” the indictment said. Costanzo then questioned NADDIS about the information Recio requested and wrote back what the documents said he had found. On another occasion, an unnamed task force officer working from the DEA offices asked NADDIS for two names that Recio Costanzo had sent the day before, the indictment said.
Costanzo is also accused of leaking privileged DEA information to defense attorneys to help their clients navigate their cases. In one case, Costanzo allegedly helped Recio write a letter to prosecutors seeking leniency in the sentencing of a client of a lawyer identified in the indictment as “Attorney-2.”
“Recio and Costanzo exchanged a draft of the document via email and made a phone call in which Recio asked Costanzo to ‘make it look good. That’s thirty grand,” the indictment said. “Costanzo explained that for some of the sensitive information in the filing related to DEA investigations, ‘I don’t even know if I can talk about it.’ Despite this, Costanzo continued to share information with Recio and emailed Recio a revised copy of the document later in the day.”
Recio bought Costanzo a Burner Phone to make it harder for investigators to keep track of their discussions, according to the FBI. The two also reportedly spoke about how to play it cool using confidential information, with Recio telling a DEA whistleblower he wants things “to look natural … because people will be like, ‘How did you know that ?’ Do you understand?'”
Both men denied anything under questioning by federal agents, the indictment said.
But investigators went after the money. In all, the FBI says Recio paid Costanzo more than $70,000 to leak DEA secrets to him.
The funds were funneled through a network of bank accounts controlled by colleagues, family members and associates, according to prosecutors. In one example, FBI agents say the unnamed task force officer working with the DEA set up a company that Recio used to wire more than $20,000 to Costanzo. The transactions were recorded in texts between Costanzo and the task force officer, with Costanzo asking for “the exact name of the company” and the task force officer responding with a photo of his checkbook.
In a statement Friday, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said, “The conduct alleged in the indictment violates law enforcement officials’ core duty to protect and serve the public, rather than using their access to sensitive information for their own personal gain… It is critical that federal law enforcement officials maintain the integrity of ongoing investigations and do not disclose confidential information to the private sector in exchange for financial gain.
If convicted on all charges, Costanzo and Recio each face a maximum of 60 years in prison.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/crooked-dea-agent-sold-intel-to-defense-attorneys-feds-say?source=articles&via=rss Criminal DEA agent has sold Intel to defense attorneys, Feds say