DEA Agent sentenced to 4 years for leaking intelligence in Miami bribery conspiracy

A federal judge sentenced a longtime Narcotics Enforcement Administration agent to four years in prison on Wednesday for leaking DEA intelligence to defense lawyers as part of a $100,000 bribery scheme, which prosecutors claimed threatened narcotics cases and the lives of confidential informants.

Last year, John Costanzo Jr. was found guilty of bribery and honest services wire fraud, adding to a growing list of DEA officers convicted of federal offenses. Manny Recio, a former DEA supervisor, is set to be sentenced next month in the same case.

In imposing his sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Oetken stated that Mr. Costanzo, 49, was “especially culpable” as a supervisor since he “knew what he was doing was wrong.”

Before being sentenced, Mr. Costanzo addressed the judge and expressed contrition for his acts. “This is my cross to bear,” he explained. “I will try to find a silver lining in all of this.”

DEA Agent sentenced to 4 years for leaking intelligence in Miami bribery conspiracy

Prosecutors requested the judge to sentence Mr. Costanzo to at least seven years in prison, claiming that he misused his skills as a narcotics detective who was well-versed in money laundering. He held supervisory positions in Miami before moving on to the DEA headquarters outside of Washington.

“Costanzo acted purely out of greed,” prosecutors stated in court documents. “He used his network, connections, and skills to hold himself above the law and make money for leaking law enforcement secrets, undermining everything he purported to stand for.”

Much of the case revolved around text messages and wiretapped phone talks between Mr. Costanzo and Mr. Recio, who stayed close after retiring from the DEA in 2018 and starting work as a private investigator for Miami defense attorneys.

Prosecutors allege that attorneys David Macey and Luis Guerra funded the bribery scheme and utilized the leaked information to approach new clients facing federal drug charges. Mr. Macey and Mr. Guerra have not been charged, but prosecutors requested the court in January for permission to read ordinarily confidential conversations between Mr. Recio and his lawyers as part of an “ongoing” inquiry.

The DEA did not respond to a request for comments. Mr. Costanzo’s punishment came less than two weeks after a federal jury in Buffalo, New York, convicted another experienced DEA agent of obstruction of justice and lying to federal authorities in a large-scale corruption case.

Over the course of a year, Mr. Recio repeatedly requested that Mr. Costanzo query names in a sensitive DEA database in order to stay up to date on federal investigations that would be of interest to his new employers. The two also talked about the scheduling of high-profile arrests and the exact day in 2019 that prosecutors planned to indict billionaire Alex Saab, a prominent criminal target in Venezuela and alleged bag man for President Nicolas Maduro.

According to authorities, Mr. Recio discreetly transferred bribes to Mr. Costanzo, including plane tickets and a $50,000 down payment on a condo in nearby Coral Gables.

The scheme relied on intermediaries, including Mr. Costanzo’s father, a retired and distinguished DEA agent who prosecutors said misled to the FBI. Prosecutors claimed Mr. Costanzo and Mr. Recio used bogus invoices and a corporation with a UPS store address to conceal the bribe payments, as well as erasing hundreds of messages and calls to a burner phone.

In demanding a probation term, Mr. Costanzo got letters of support from numerous former colleagues, including three current DEA agents and supervisors who regarded him as a dedicated public servant, generous friend, and illicit financing expert.

Mr. Costanzo’s attorney stated that his client’s primary aim was to follow in the footsteps of his father, John Costanzo Sr., a veteran DEA agent who spent years in Italy and is currently battling pancreatic cancer.

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

Prosecutors, on the other hand, offered a less favorable picture of the father-son connection, citing the elder Costanzo’s involvement as a conduit for a $50,000 bribe payment used to buy a Miami home.

“Let this be a message to all public officials who are tempted to profit illegally from their service—there will be serious consequences,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.

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