Veteran DEA Agent Was Given 4 Years in Prison for Giving Information About a Miami Bribery Plot to the Wrong People

NEW YORK — The longtime U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent was given a four-year prison sentence Wednesday for giving defense lawyers DEA information as part of a $100,000 bribery plan that put drug cases and the lives of confidential sources at risk, according to the prosecutors.

Last year, John Costanzo Jr. was found guilty of bribery and honest services wire theft. He is now one of many DEA agents who have been found guilty of federal crimes. Manny Recio, a different former DEA boss, is set to be sentenced next month in the same case.

Judge Paul Oetken of the U.S. District Court said that Costanzo, who is 49 years old, was “especially culpable” as a boss because he “knew what he was doing was wrong.”

Before being sentenced, Costanzo told the judge that he felt bad about his actions. He said, “This is my cross to bear.” “I’ll try to see the bright side of everything.”

The prosecutors asked the judge to give Costanzo at least seven years in prison because they said he abused the skills he had learned as a drug detective who was also very familiar with money laundering. He was a supervisor in Miami and then at the DEA offices outside of Washington, D.C.

In court papers, authorities said, “Costanzo did what he did out of pure greed.” “He used his connections, network, and skills to get around the law and make money by leaking police secrets, which went against everything he said he stood for.”

A lot of the case was based on text messages and phone calls between Costanzo and Recio that were recorded. The two stayed close after Recio retired from the DEA in 2018 and started working as a private detective for Miami defense lawyers.

Prosecutors say that lawyers David Macey and Luis Guerra paid for the bribery plan and then used the leaked information to get new clients who were facing federal drug charges. Even though Macey and Guerra haven’t been charged, prosecutors asked the court in January to be able to read private messages between Recio and the lawyers as part of what they called a “ongoing” probe.

The DEA did not answer when asked for a statement. It had been less than two weeks since a federal jury in Buffalo, New York, found another senior DEA agent guilty of lying to federal agents and blocking the investigation into a large-scale corruption case.

For a year, Recio kept asking Costanzo to look up names in a secret DEA database so that he could stay up to date on government investigations that his new employers would be interested in. They also talked about when high-profile arrests would happen and exactly when in 2019 authorities planned to bring charges against businessman Alex Saab, who is a top criminal target in Venezuela and is thought to be Nicolas Maduro’s bodyguard.

Authorities say that in return, Recio gave Costanzo bribes in secret, such as plane tickets and a $50,000 down payment on a condo in the Coral Gables suburbs.

The plot depended on middlemen, such as Costanzo’s father, who was a retired and highly decorated DEA agent who prosecutors said lied to the FBI. Prosecutors said Costanzo and Recio also used fake bills and a business whose address was listed as a UPS shop to hide the fact that they were paying bribes and deleted hundreds of messages and calls to a “burner” phone.

When Costanzo asked for probation, he got letters of support from a number of former coworkers, including three current DEA agents and bosses who said he was a dedicated public servant, a kind friend, and an expert in illegal money.

Costanzo’s lawyer said that his client’s only goal was to become a DEA agent like his father, John Costanzo Sr., who is now fighting pancreatic cancer after years of service in Italy.

“John would be broken forever if he wasn’t there for his hero’s last days and months,” defense lawyer Marc Mukasey wrote in a memo before the sentence hearing. “That’s not fair for him to get that.

However, the prosecutors had a less positive view of the father-son relationship because they said that the older Costanzo helped move a $50,000 bribe payment that was used to buy a townhouse in Miami.

New York’s U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said, “Let this be a message to all public officials who are tempted to make illegal money from their service: there will be serious consequences.”

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