Inspector General Report Blasts DEA Leadership for Failure to Oversee Foreign Partners

A report from the inspector general this summer blasted the Drug Enforcement Administration leadership for their failure to oversee foreign partners.

The report found that the DEA's "Sensitive Investigative Unit" program, or SIU, which is meant to train foreign operatives, was not given sufficient oversight, and it faulted the agency for failing to learn from many well-publicized scandals.

In Mexico, an SIU unit was the subject of U.S. congressional inquiries after reports that a drug cartel in 2011 massacred dozens of civilians after a leak from the vetted unit. In 2020, a commander of the same unit was charged in America with taking bribes from drug traffickers for protection.

A former DEA agent who worked with the vetted units in Colombia pleaded guilty last year to 19 counts of conspiring to launder millions of dollars from DEA-controlled accounts. Two SIU members also accompanied DEA agents in cartel-organized "sex parties" with prostitutes, the inspector general found.

The audit also found that the DEA made little effort to investigate leaks following each well-publicized scandal, often deferring to local authorities.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Drug Enforcement Administration
A report from the Inspector General found that the DEA gave little oversight for its foreign agents. Mike Davis, center, of the DEA, and various community health organization staff members organize containers of pills and prescription drugs boxed for disposal during National Prescription Drug Take Back Day at Watts Healthcare on April 24 in Los Angeles. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

For years, Captain Juan Pablo Mosquera rose through the ranks of Colombia's national police, earning accolades from his bosses on his way to becoming the trusted supervisor of a unit that worked hand-in-glove with U.S. anti-narcotics agents.

Now he's facing up to 20 years in a U.S. prison for allegedly betraying the DEA to the same drug traffickers they were jointly fighting.

His 2018 arrest and subsequent extradition to the U.S., which has not been previously reported, is another black eye for an elite DEA program to train and support foreign law enforcement that has been repeatedly subverted by corrupt cops and deadly leaks.

The rare prosecution of a once-standout U.S. ally follows a report this summer from a U.S. government watchdog that blasted the DEA's leadership in Washington for failing to oversee its foreign law enforcement partners even in the aftermath of a string of well-publicized scandals.

"The DEA needs to be more vigilant of the operations that it's conducting in foreign countries because the corruption is so rampant," said Mike Vigil, the DEA's former chief of international operations.

Mosquera goes on trial October 13 in Miami federal court on two counts of obstructing justice for allegedly selling evidence and information gathered by the vetted unit he oversaw to key targets of U.S. investigators.

It's not clear what led the DEA to doubt the 37-year-old Mosquera—the three-page indictment says almost nothing about his alleged crimes.

But Juan Carlos Dávila, a co-defendant with a long history in Colombia's criminal underworld, testified as part of a plea agreement that Mosquera enlisted him to try to sell information to a target of a DEA investigation: an American who was living in Colombia under a false identity.

The American, who was identified in court papers only by his initials P.L., is described as someone who ditched probation in Arkansas in the 1990s and remains a fugitive. That matches the criminal history of Patrick Liljebeck, who was indicted in Miami shortly after Mosquera's arrest for conspiring to smuggle 50 kilograms of cocaine aboard a sailboat.

Unbeknownst to Dávila, a man he thought was the unnamed American's associate was a confidential source working at the direction of the DEA.

"Mosquera corruptly used his position…to access investigative information regarding DEA investigations and targets with the intent to make money from that information," Dávila said in a proffer accompanying his plea agreement.

Dávila, who was reportedly arrested in 2013 on an Italian warrant for ties to the Sicilian mafia, agreed to testify against Mosquera in exchange for a reduced sentence. Others who may take the stand include five DEA agents and an unnamed Colombian law enforcement officer, according to court papers filed by prosecutors.

Prosecutors also intend to rely on extensive audio and video recordings of meetings between Dávila and DEA informants—none of which Mosquera himself appears to have attended.

Daniel Hentschel, an attorney for Mosquera, declined to comment on the case, as did the U.S. attorney's office and the DEA.

Mosquera, before his arrest, led a police squad in the city of Cali overseen by the DEA's SIU, the gold standard for its partnerships abroad. The program of vetted units was set up to help the DEA conduct investigations in foreign countries where the drug business begins but where its agents are guests and face more restrictions.

The DEA credits the vetted units with some of the world's biggest busts and the arrest of hundreds of capos. Selected agents receive five weeks of special training at the DEA Academy in Virginia and frequently leverage the Americans' mentorship into top positions inside their country's security forces. Since its start in the late 1990s, the program has expanded to more than 20 countries, including Thailand and Kenya.

To mitigate risks and prevent corruption, foreign agents are supposed to go through extensive vetting that includes drug tests and polygraphs.

However, the inspector general said it was "troubling" to learn that the DEA had scaled back the frequency of its lie-detector testing—from every two years to three.

Vigil said polygraphs should ideally be taken every quarter or six months.

"The temptations are very great," he said. "The police officers got paid a little more for belonging to a vetted unit, but it's never going to compete with the amount of money the cartels will pay to compromise information."

Colombia Drug Trafficking
The case of Colombian Captain Juan Pablo Mosquera is the latest black eye for the DEA program to train and support foreign law enforcement that has been repeatedly subverted by corrupt cops and deadly leaks. Above, a police officer stands on a coca field during a manual eradication operation in Tumaco, Colombia, on December. 30, 2020. Ivan Valencia, File/AP Photo