“Sol Prendido” for Borderland Beat

A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a veteran U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent to four years in prison for leaking agency intelligence to defense attorneys in a $100,000 bribery scheme that, According to prosecutors, he put drug cases and the lives of confidential informants at risk.

John Costanzo Jr. was found guilty last year of bribery and honest services wire fraud, joining a growing list of DEA agents who have been convicted of federal crimes.

Another former DEA supervisor, Manny Recio, is scheduled for his sentencing hearing next month as part of the same case.

Federal Judge Paul Oetken noted when he handed down the sentence that Costanzo, 49, was “particularly culpable” as a supervisor because he “knew what he was doing was wrong.”

Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Costanzo to at least seven years in prison, noting that he had abused the professional techniques he honed as a narcotics investigator immersed in the world of money laundering. He held supervisory positions in Miami and later at DEA headquarters outside Washington, D.C.

“Costanzo acted purely out of greed,” prosecutors wrote in court documents.

He “used his network, connections and expertise to place himself above the law and obtain money by leaking security forces secrets, undermining everything he purported to stand for.”

Much of the case was based on text messages and wiretapped phone calls between Costanzo and Recio, with whom he remained close after Recio retired from the DEA in 2018 and began working as a private investigator for defense attorneys in Miami.

Prosecutors contend that attorneys David Macey and Luis Guerra financed the bribery scheme and used the leaked information to approach new clients facing federal drug trafficking charges.

Macey and Guerra have not been charged, but prosecutors in January asked the court for permission to access normally privileged communications between Recio and the attorneys as part of what they described as an “ongoing” investigation.

The DEA did not respond to a request for comment. Costanzo’s sentencing came less than two weeks after a federal jury in Buffalo, New York, found another veteran DEA agent guilty of obstruction of justice and lying to federal agents in a sprawling corruption case.

Over the course of a year, Recio repeatedly asked Costanzo to check names in a confidential DEA database to stay abreast of federal investigations that might interest his new employers.

The two also discussed the timing of high-profile arrests and the exact date in 2019 when prosecutors planned to file charges against businessman Alex Saab, a major criminal target in Venezuela and alleged tax collector for the South American country’s president, Nicolás. Ripe.

In exchange, prosecutors said, Recio secretly sent bribes to Costanzo, including airline tickets and a $50,000 down payment on a condo in suburban Coral Gables.

The conspiracy relied on middlemen, including Costanzo’s father, Costanzo himself and a retired, decorated DEA agent who prosecutors said had lied to the FBI.

Prosecutors said Costanzo and Recio also used fake invoices and a company whose address was a UPS warehouse to disguise bribe payments, while deleting hundreds of messages and calls to a burner phone.

In his request for a probation sentence, Costanzo obtained letters of support from several former colleagues, including three DEA agents and supervisors who described him as a dedicated public servant, a generous friend and an expert in illicit finances.

Costanzo’s lawyer said his client’s only ambition was to follow in the footsteps of his father, John Costanzo Sr., a retired DEA agent who worked for years in Italy and now suffers from pancreatic cancer.

“Not being present for his hero’s final days and months would break John forever,” defense attorney Marc Mukasey said in a pre-sentencing memo. “It is a punishment that he does not deserve.”

However, prosecutors portrayed a less benevolent father-son relationship, pointing to Costanzo Sr.’s role as a conduit for a $50,000 bribe payment that was used to purchase a residence in Miami.

“The measure of Costanzo’s devotion to his family must include the fact that he exposed both his father and his friend to criminal liability and imprisonment,” prosecutors wrote in a court document.

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