The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has fired its top official in Mexico over improper contact with attorneys representing big-time international drug traffickers. Nicholas Palmeri’s close social relationships with Miami drug lawyers led to his downfall after just a 14-month stint as DEA’s regional director overseeing agents across Mexico, Central America, and Canada.
The misconduct probe against Nicholas Palmeri marks the second case in recent months to shine a light on the often cozy interactions between DEA officials and Miami attorneys representing some of Latin America’s biggest narcotraffickers. https://t.co/anbDwJaovh
— The Associated Press (@AP) January 27, 2023
Former DEA chief of international operations Mike Vigil said the position Palmeri held is the most important to DEA’s foreign operations, and when something like this happens, it is very disruptive to the agency’s mission.
Phil Jordan, former director of the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center, added that this case is even more troubling because of the deteriorating situation with Mexico regarding the cartels that now effectively control the border region. In addition, Palmeri’s case adds to a growing list of misconduct within the DEA when its foreign operations are under scrutiny from an external review ordered by DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.
Palmeri’s case is the second in recent months to highlight troubles that result when government officials get too close to U.S.-based attorneys representing some of Latin America’s biggest narco-traffickers and money launderers.
Federal prosecutors charged a DEA agent and a former supervisor in 2022 over allegations they leaked confidential law enforcement information to two Miami drug lawyers in exchange for $70,000 in cash.
The DEA refused to comment on the Palmeri’s matter. However, an anonymous official told the Associated Press that the agency “has zero tolerance for improper contacts between defense attorneys and DEA employees” and “aggressively investigates this serious misconduct and takes decisive action, including removal, against employees who engage in it.”
According to internal probes, Palmeri also faced criticism for handling the coronavirus pandemic. Several agents under Palmeri’s command contracted COVID-19 following a meeting at the DEA office in Mazatlán. Some agents say they were mocked for wearing masks.
Another investigation disclosed this past week found Palmeri approved taxpayer funds for various inappropriate purposes. He attempted to reimburse himself for his own birthday party.
Palmeri described the investigations into his conduct as a “witch hunt” arising out of personal and professional jealousy.
The federal government spent $41 billion in 2022 fighting the drug war. Still, it hasn’t made a difference in stemming the flow of drugs onto American streets.