DEA fired Mexico director amid misconduct investigation and fentanyl boom
MEXICO CITY – As illegal fentanyl surged across the US southwest border, the Mexico City office DEA in Mexico It was in crisis for more than six months after its director was recalled to Washington while his conduct was investigated, according to current and former US officials.
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The investigation, which has not been previously reported, came at a critical time. Cooperation between the DEA and Mexican authorities had deteriorated under the nationalist government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Meanwhile, drug overdose deaths in the United States soared to record levels, as Mexico cemented its role as the number one source of fentanyl in the US.
The move left the DEA’s regional office in Mexico City, which oversees the agency’s operations in Mexico and Central America, without a full-time resident director for at least six months starting in June 2021, just when the Biden administration was beginning to face the crisis.
The turmoil in one of the most important offices of the DEA was an embarrassing distraction as officers attempted to work with security agencies in Mexicofull of corruptionto prevent drug trafficking, according to several US officials who have worked in the country in recent years.
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“You can’t fix what’s wrong with the Mexican government if your own house is on fire,” said a former DEA agent. Like other current and former US officials, he spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive personal matter.
This week, the internal control body of the Justice Department He said he discovered that a DEA regional director embezzled agency funds for his birthday party and for “unpermitted items” during the agency’s top official’s travels. The director was eventually “removed from the DEA” based on a second investigation, pointed out the Office of the Inspector General in a summary, but did not provide details.
The office did not identify the official. The former regional director of the DEA in Mexico, Nick Palmericonfirmed to The Washington Post that the statement referred to him. In addition, the former official criticized the statement because “he wrongly states that they removed me from the DEA.” His departure, he wrote in a WhatsApp message, “should be considered a forced retirement.”
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He said the investigation into his spending “was used as part of an ill-conceived narrative to get me out of my position” due to an internal dispute at the agency.
When the agency was asked about the case, it said: “DEA holds its 10,000 employees to the highest standards of conduct and professionalism. When an employee is found not to have met those standards, the DEA takes decisive action, including removing the agency.”
The episode is the latest “black eye” for an agency that has been plagued by corruption scandals, including the jailing of a police officer. DEA Miami-based company that pleaded guilty in 2020 to diverting more than $9 million from sting operations to finance expensive sports cars, luxury travel and parties.
palmeria former police officer from the city of NY who had worked in the office of the DEA in Guadalajara, Mexico, and later held a senior position in the agency’s New York office, he was known as a talented investigator. He started as a regional director in Mexico City at the beginning of 2020.
It was a particularly challenging time. López Obrador had reduced cooperation with the DEAciting Mexico’s sovereignty and a shift in policy from focusing on capturing drug lords to running social programs for the young and poor.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic.
The virus spread through the DEA office in the Pacific coast city of Mazatlán, Mexico, after agency employees held meetings in violation of embassy health protocols, according to four current US officials. and previous. Two DEA agents became so ill that they were taken to USAthey pointed out.
Things only got worse for the DEA. In October 2020, US authorities arrested the former Mexican defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos in Los Angeles on drug charges. That sparked such outrage in Mexico that the Trump administration dropped the charges and sent the general home. López Obrador, impassive, signed a law that drastically limits the activities of the DEA in the country, and his administration delayed the visas of some 20 US agents for months.
Amid the turbulence, officials at the headquarters of the DEA began receiving reports of alleged mismanagement in the Mexico office. In June 2021, he was ordered to palmeri to return to Washington while investigators conducted inquiries into his allegations.
In the report summary released Wednesday, the inspector general’s office said the regional director had used funds from the DEA intended for professional gatherings for an inappropriate activity: their own birthday party. The director also approved payment for “unpermitted items” during the DEA official’s travels, the office said, drawing on funds that were supposed to be used for sensitive drugs.