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Amid Fentanyl Crisis, DEA Sacked Its Mexico Chief

The Justice Department’s internal watchdog said it had found that a Drug Enforcement Administration regional director misused agency funds for his birthday party and for “unallowable items” during trips by the agency’s top official. The previously undisclosed six-month investigation came at a critical time when cooperation between the DEA and Mexican authorities had deteriorated under the nationalist government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and fentanyl drug overdose deaths soared to record levels in the U.S., the Washington Post reports. The director, Nick Palmeri, was ultimately “removed from DEA” based on a second investigation, the Office of the Inspector General said in a summary, but it provided no details. The move left the DEA 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 beginning in June 2021 — just as the Biden administration was starting to confront the crisis.

The upheaval in one of the DEA’s most important offices was an embarrassing distraction as agents tried to work with Mexico’s corruption-ridden security agencies to deter drug trafficking, according to several U.S. officials who worked in the country in recent years. “You can’t fix what’s going wrong in the Mexican government if your own house is on fire,” said one ex-DEA agent. Palmeri blasted the release, which he said “erroneously states that I was removed from the DEA.” His departure, he wrote in a WhatsApp message, “should be considered as a forced retirement.” He said the investigation into his spending “was used as part of an ill-conceived narrative to remove me from my position” due to an internal feud at the agency. The agency, asked about the case, said: “The DEA holds its 10,000 employees to the highest standards of conduct and professionalism. When an employee is found to have not lived up to those standards, DEA takes decisive action, including removal from the agency.”


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