Colombian Narcotics Kingpin Sentenced to Prison for Bribing Former Federal Agent to Dismiss Indictment

A Colombian Cali Cartel cocaine trafficker was sentenced today to 27 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release in the Southern District of Florida for bribing a former special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) to secure the dismissal of a drug trafficking indictment filed against him.

According to admissions in the plea agreement, Jose Bayron Piedrahita-Ceballos, 60, of Medellin, Colombia, offered and gave things of value to Christopher Ciccione II, 54, a former federal law enforcement agent, in exchange for Ciccione using his official position to cause a drug trafficking indictment against Piedrahita-Ceballos to be dismissed and to obtain official authorization for Piedrahita-Ceballos to enter the United States.  At the time of the dismissal, Ciccione was the case agent for Operation Cornerstone, a large-scale Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force case that resulted in indictments of over 100 Colombia-based cocaine traffickers from the Cali Cartel.   

“This defendant was a drug kingpin who paid a Special Agent to bribe his way out of a criminal indictment,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  “As today’s sentence shows, the Department of Justice will work diligently to ensure that our justice system is never corrupted in this manner.”

“ICE takes responsibility in ensuring its employees have the trust of the American public,” said Special Agent in Charge Southeast Michael T. Moreland of ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).  “To erode that trust, Mr. Piedrahita sought to use an employee for his personal gain and his sentence today conveys to other bad actors that ICE will not tolerate the exploitation of its employees or the American justice system.”  

“This case demonstrates the power of collaboration between the U.S. law enforcement and our counterparts abroad,” said Department of Homeland Security Inspector General (DHS-OIG) Dr. Joseph V. Cuffari.  “Today’s sentence constitutes a substantial step toward our commitment to thwart any scheme that attempts to corrupt the integrity of U.S. law enforcement personnel and circumvent our justice system.”

Piedrahita-Ceballos, an Operation Cornerstone defendant, and Colombian national Juan Carlos Velasco, 51, gave Ciccione approximately $20,000 in cash, dinner, drinks and prostitution during an extended hotel stay in Bogota, Colombia, in exchange for official acts that resulted in the dismissal of the indictment against Piedrahita-Ceballos.  Velasco served as the intermediary between Ciccione and Piedrahita-Ceballos.  Velasco and Ciccione have previously pleaded guilty for their conduct in this matter.  On Feb. 9, 2018, Ciccione was sentenced to 36 months in prison.  On Jan. 19, 2018, Velasco was sentenced to 27 months in prison.

In furtherance of this scheme to obstruct justice, Ciccione misled the U.S. Attorney’s Office, HSI management, and altered TECS records to secure the dismissal.  Ciccone also falsified the concurrence of several other federal agents and attempted to obtain entry for Piedrahita-Ceballos into the United States.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated Piedrahita as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act on May 3, 2016.

ICE-OPR, DHS-OIG and the FBI investigated the case.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, the Office of the Judicial Attaché in Colombia and the Drug Enforcement Administration provided valuable assistance to the investigation.  The Colombian Attorney General’s Office also provided invaluable support.  Trial Attorney Jennifer A. Clarke of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section is prosecuting the case.

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Author: September 20, 2019

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