José Irizarry is known as the most corrupt agent in U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration history, admitting he “became another man” in conspiring with Colombian cartels to build a lavish lifestyle of expensive sports cars, Tiffany jewels and paramours. As he used his final hours of freedom to tell his story to the Associated Press, Irizarry accused DEA colleagues of joining him in skimming millions of dollars from drug money laundering stings to fund a decade’s worth of luxury overseas travel, fine dining, top seats at sporting events and frat house-style debauchery. Irizarry claims that dozens of other federal agents, prosecutors, informants and in some cases cartel smugglers themselves were in on the three-continent joyride known as “Team America” that chose cities for money laundering pick-ups mostly for party purposes or to coincide with Real Madrid soccer or Rafael Nadal tennis matches. That included stops in VIP rooms of Caribbean strip joints, Amsterdam’s red-light district and aboard a Colombian yacht with plenty of booze and prostitutes.
"We had free access to do whatever we wanted,” Irizarry, 48, said in a series of interviews before beginning a 12-year federal prison sentence. “We would generate money pick-ups in places we wanted to go. And once we got there it was about drinking and girls.” The revelry was rooted, Irizarry said, in a realization among DEA agents around the world that there’s nothing they can do to make a dent in the drug war. Only nominal concern was given to building cases or stemming a record flow of illegal cocaine and opioids into the U.S. that has driven more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths a year. “You can’t win an unwinnable war. DEA knows this and the agents know this,” Irizarry said. “There’s so much dope leaving Colombia. And there’s so much money. We know we’re not making a difference. The drug war is a game. ... It was a very fun game that we were playing.”