International

Veteran DEA agent sentenced to 3 years for bribing former colleague to leak intelligence

By The Canadian Press

Published 12:39 PDT, Tue May 14, 2024

NEW YORK (AP) — A former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration supervisor was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison for bribing a longtime colleague to leak DEA intelligence to Miami defense lawyers seeking to profit off the timing of indictments and other sensitive information about drug investigations. 

A federal jury last year convicted Manny Recio of bribery and honest-services wire fraud amid a flurry of misconduct cases involving DEA agents accused of corruption and other federal crimes. Recio's former colleague, John Costanzo Jr., was sentenced last month to four years behind bars for orchestrating the $100,000 bribery scheme. 

“He decided to cash in on his connections," U.S. District Court Judge Paul Oetken said of Recio during a hearing in Manhattan, adding the bribery conspiracy compromised DEA investigations. “He knew better.”

A decorated investigator who worked more than two decades in the DEA, Recio made an emotional apology in front of several family members and said he accepted his conviction. He told the judge he had “lost everything” through this prosecution, including his life savings.

“I don't even have a credit card, your honor," he said. “I stand before you without any excuses.” 

The DEA did not respond to a request for comment. 

Recio, 55, retired from the DEA in 2018 but remained close to Costanzo as he began recruiting clients as a private investigator for several Miami defense lawyers. 

Prosecutors said Recio had been motivated by greed, writing in court filings that his “spending habits, including his purchase of a 2021 Porsche Macan, demonstrate the motive that led him to seek unlawful profits through bribery.”

“The ink was hardly dry on his retirement papers before he launched into this scheme,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sheb Swett told the judge. “What they did was engage in law enforcement by secret, by inside information.”

Following the conviction of the two former DEA supervisors last year, federal prosecutors shifted their focus to the defense lawyers they said bankrolled the $100,000 bribery scheme, David Macey and Luis Guerra, recently getting clearance to review hundreds of normally privileged communications with Recio. Macey and Guerra have not been charged and have not responded to repeated requests for comment. 

Much of the prosecution turned on text messages and wiretapped phone calls between the lawmen after a longtime DEA snitch turned on the same agency that launched his lucrative career as the go-to fixer for traffickers, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike. 

Recio repeatedly asked Costanzo to query names in a confidential DEA database to keep abreast of federal investigations that would interest his new employers. The two also discussed the timing of high-profile arrests and the exact date in 2019 when prosecutors planned to bring charges against businessman Alex Saab, a top criminal target in Venezuela and suspected bag man for the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro.

In exchange, prosecutors said, Recio secretly funneled $73,000 in purchases to Costanzo, including plane tickets and a down payment on his condo in suburban Coral Gables, Florida. The two also deleted hundreds of calls and messages to a burner phone.

Recio's defense attorneys portrayed the former DEA supervisor as a generous friend and mentor who wouldn't have met Macey and Guerra if not for Costanzo's introduction. In seeking a more lenient sentence of 18 months, they collected letters from several other defense attorneys who praised Recio's work as an investigator in complex cases in which defendants sought to cooperate with the DEA.

“His intent was never to harm the DEA mission,” defense attorney Ronald Gainor said. “What we have here is someone who made lapses in judgment.”

———

Goodman reported from Miami.

– Jim Mustian and Joshua Goodman, The Associated Press

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