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on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, January 27, 2023

DEA Regional Head of Mexico & Central America Was Dismissed for Misusing Funds & Socializing with Narco Lawyers

"Socalj" for Borderland Beat

Nicholas Palmeri had been in charge of the Regional Office for Mexico, Central America, and Canada for just over a year.

The DEA Drug Enforcement Administration quietly ousted its former top official in Mexico last year over improper contact with lawyers for narcotraffickers, 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.

Nicholas Palmeri’s socializing and vacationing with Miami drug lawyers, detailed in confidential records viewed by The Associated Press, brought his ultimate downfall following just a 14-month stint as DEA’s powerful regional director supervising dozens of agents across Mexico, Central America, and Canada.

But separate internal probes raised other red flags, including complaints of lax handling of the coronavirus pandemic that resulted in two sickened agents having to be airlifted out of the country. And another disclosed this past week found Palmeri approved the use of drug-fighting funds for inappropriate purposes and sought to be reimbursed for paying for his own birthday party.

“The post of regional director in Mexico is the most important one in DEA’s foreign operations, and when something like this happens, it’s disruptive,” said Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former chief of international operations.

“It’s even more critical because of the deteriorating situation with Mexico,” added Phil Jordan, a former director of the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center. “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. It cannot be taken lightly.”

Palmeri’s case adds to a growing litany of misconduct of the DEA under scrutiny from an external review ordered by DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.

An external review ordered by DEA Administrator Anne Milgram came in response to the case of Jose Irizarry, a disgraced former agent now serving a 12-year federal prison sentence after confessing to laundering money for Colombian drug cartels and skimming millions from seizures to fund his lifestyle of jet-setting, parties, and prostitutes.

Palmeri’s is the second case in recent months to show interactions between DEA officials and Miami lawyers representing some of Latin America’s biggest narcotraffickers and money launderers. Last year, federal prosecutors charged a DEA agent and a former supervisor with leaking confidential law enforcement information to two unnamed Miami defense attorneys in exchange for $70,000 in cash.

Diego Marin Buitrago arrest mugshot.

Colombian Contraband King, Diego Marin

Authorities believe Diego Marin is Colombia's contraband king, importing shipping containers full of electronics and textiles with drug dollars that are sold at flea markets at a steep discount.

Marin was arrested in 1993 for allegedly hiding drug money for the Cali Cartel in Colombia-bound home appliances. But he was never charged and has eluded prosecution ever since by leveraging relationships built over decades as an informant to multiple US law enforcement agencies, officials said.

Current and former US law enforcement officials now suspect Irizarry was using his DEA status to arrest Marin's rivals. Diego Marin's attorney is David Macey who had invited Palmeri to his vacation home in Florida.

Miami Defense Attorney, David Macey (left) has represented several drug defendants including a money launderer in Colombia, Diego Marin.

Miami Narco Lawyer Trip

One of those attorneys, David Macey, was also implicated in the probe into Palmeri. Internal investigative records show Macey hosted Palmeri and his wife for two days at his home in the Florida Keys, a trip that investigators said served no useful work purpose and violated rules governing interactions with attorneys that are designed to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

Palmeri acknowledged to investigators that he stayed at Macey’s getaway home, that his Mexican-born wife worked as a translator for another prominent attorney, Ruben Oliva, and that he took an unauthorized trip to Miami with his wife in February 2021.

The purpose of the Miami trip had been to “debrief” a confidential source. But it took place at a private home where Palmeri showed up with his wife and a bottle of wine, according to the internal report. “The meeting had the appearance of a social interaction with a confidential source,” the investigators wrote, “and there was no contemporaneous official DEA documentation concerning the substance of the debrief, both of which violate DEA policy.”

Violating DEA Policy

Those violations prompted Palmeri’s abrupt transfer to Washington, D.C. in May 2021 before he ultimately stepped down last March, the records show. Palmeri told investigators he had shown “not the best judgment.”

The DEA wouldn’t discuss the specifics of Palmeri’s ouster or why he was allowed to retire instead of being fired. But an official stated the agency “has zero tolerance for improper contacts between defense attorneys and DEA employees.” “The DEA aggressively investigates this serious misconduct and takes decisive action, including removal, against employees who engage in it,” said the official.

Palmeri described the misconduct investigations as a “witch hunt” prompted by personal and professional jealousies he refused to specify and “an ill-conceived narrative to remove me from my position.” Palmeri added that his relationships with attorneys have “always been professional and ethical,” and that all his expenditures in Mexico were “judicious” and benefited the U.S. government.

“It is ironic,” Palmeri wrote in an email, “that the Department of ‘Justice’ would commit this injustice to the country.”

Any criminal prosecution of the Regional Director has been declined.

Caro-Quintero was captured 2 months following Palmeri's departure.

Obsession with Capturing Rafael Caro Quintero

A former New York City police officer, Palmeri arrived in Mexico in 2020. Some agents complained about his near-obsession with capturing Rafael Caro Quintero, saying Palmeri prioritized that over the agency’s less headline-grabbing efforts to stop the flow of Chinese precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl. RCQ was finally arrested in July of 2022, months after the DEA recalled Palmeri back to Washington. RCQ is currently undergoing extradition proceedings.

Chris Landau, who oversaw Palmeri as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico during the Trump administration, said that singular focus on Caro Quintero and other such headline-grabbing arrests is characteristic of the DEA’s broader failings in the drug war.

Landau cited the US arrest in 2020 of a Former Defense Secretary, General Salvador Cienfuegos, which prompted Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to disband the elite police unit that was the DEA’s key ally. López Obrador also kept DEA agents at their desks instead of out in the field. Their DEA plane was essentially grounded. After negotiations and Mexico looking to prosecute the General in their country; he was released and flown back to Mexico. After a short period of time, no charges were filed as Mexican officials cited not enough evidence.

Law enforcement cooperation between the neighboring countries strained further with Caro's arrest, while seen as a victory for both sides. The DEA backtracked a statement made by Administrator Anne Milgram regarding the DEA's involvement in the arrest operation. AMLO and other figures denied that they were involved.

Sources AP News, Syracuse News, La Silla Rota


  1. Cienfuegos, like the military in many countries around the globe, was the CIA's asset. They are the ones, in concert with amlo, had cienfuegos released and the dea sanctioned. Control of foreign military and the $$$ generated from drugs trumps the war on drugs! As hell-yah-muricka increases military spending and involvement in 3rd world countries the drug production skyrockets! Vietnam, Afghanistan, Colombia and Mexico to name a few!

    1. I doubt Caro Qintero will ever be extradited as that can of worms needs to remain sealed.

    2. Quintero can be extradited without a deal so the can of worms remains sealed. In any matter, he has no new relevant information.

    3. 10:28 Of course he has... thats why they want him jailed.

    4. That isn't true. The amount of money to be made by the people the CIA are beholden to is more than 10 times anything they could make by getting back into bed with traffickers. Considering the lengths they allegedly went to before to hide their involvement with traffickers at the end of the Cold War in central america, why would they swap a trillion dollars for a billion in dirty money that could haunt them forever?They can't have both, since one business threatens the others.

    5. 1:41 they(DEA) want him jailed because they believe he was the main individual responsible for Camarenas death. He was 60 when he was released in August 2013, much too young for a certain agency as that same agency hasn't made much noise regarding the release of MAFG and EFC. Me thinks it's because of their health, age and.....?

  2. Just more god damned embarrassment… 🫃

  3. I don't think Luna wants to go quietly

  4. DEA needs to shape up, this sloppy image and conduct is hurting us interests

    1. Totally agree. If our hands appear to be dirty, nothing, we do will have a positive outcome.

  5. No doubt just one of many federal agents of the DoJ abusing their position of power

  6. No wonder the mexican government was denying the DEA's visas.

  7. This is an embarrassment. Just absurd. There is no reason a DEA regional head or whatever title should be dining with a top cartel lawyer in Miami.

    I wouldn't be surprised if an indictment is eventually filed.

  8. Why doesn’t anyone talk about the Plaza bosses in the United States? el uno in Phoenix Arizona working directly for Ivan and Los chapitos. It seems odd no one cares about the guys that run it on the US side

    1. 1:03 they put the focus and spot light on Mexico and act like the US is not cartel land as well..

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. It is a long proven fact no matter what or who it is DRUG MONEY CORRUPTS EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE. Even the ppl who can’t initially be bought after time seeing that nothing you do will have an effect they to get tired and beat down into saying fuck it I want a nice house and car to.

  11. The United States employs thousands of Border Guards and thousands more Agents against Dope.
    Always Remember that all the Cartels need is One


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