26 September 2023

UNITED STATES: Questions asked over official’s conduct

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The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has quietly removed its former top official in Mexico, Nicholas Palmeri over improper contact with lawyers for narcotics traffickers.

Mr Palmeri’s (pictured) removal brought an embarrassing end to a brief tenure marked by deteriorating cooperation between the countries and a record flow of cocaine, heroin and fentanyl across the border into the US.

His socialising and vacationing with Miami drug lawyers, detailed in confidential records viewed by journalists, brought Mr Palmeri’s ultimate downfall following a 14-month stint as the DEA’s Regional Director, supervising dozens of agents across Mexico, Central America and Canada.

Separate internal probes raised other red flags, including complaints of lax handling of the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in two sickened agents having to be airlifted out of the country.

Another investigation found Mr Palmeri approved use of drug-fighting funds for inappropriate purposes and sought to be reimbursed to pay for his own birthday party.

Former Director of the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Centre, Phil Jordan said the change was needed because of the deteriorating situation with Mexico.

“If we don’t have a strong Regional Director or agent in charge there, it works against the Agency’s overall operations, because everything transits through Mexico, whether it’s coming from Colombia or the fentanyl that flows in through China,” Mr Jordan said.

“It cannot be taken lightly.”

DEA officials would not discuss the specifics of Mr Palmeri’s ouster, or why he was allowed to retire instead of being fired.

His case adds to a growing litany of misconduct roiling the nation’s premier narcotics law enforcement Agency at a time when its sprawling foreign operations — spanning 69 countries — are under scrutiny from an external review ordered by Administrator of the DEA, Anne Milgram.

That review initially came in response to the case of Jose Irizarry, a disgraced former agent now serving a 12-year prison sentence after confessing to laundering money for Colombian drug cartels and skimming millions from seizures to fund an international joyride of jet-setting, parties and prostitutes.

Washington, 28 January 2023

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