The Infiltrator: The True Story of One Man Against the Biggest Drug Cartel in History
By Robert Mazur
The electrifying true story that inspired the major new motion picture The Infiltrator
Robert Mazur spent years undercover infiltrating the Medellín Cartel’s criminal hierarchy. The dirty bankers and businessmen he befriended-some of whom still shape power across the globe-knew him as Bob Musella, a wealthy, mob-connected big shot living the good life. Together they partied in $1,000-per-night hotel suites, drank bottles of the world’s finest champagne, drove Rolls-Royce convertibles, and flew in private jets. But under Mazur’s Armani suits and in his Renwick briefcase, recorders whirred silently, capturing the damning evidence of their crimes.
The Infiltrator is the story of how Mazur helped bring down the unscrupulous bankers who manipulated complex international finance systems to serve drug lords, corrupt politicians, tax cheats, and terrorists. It is a shocking chronicle of the rise and fall of one of the biggest and most intricate money-laundering operation of all time-an enterprise that cleaned and moved hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Filled with dangerous lies, near misses, and harrowing escapes, The Infiltrator is as bracing and explosive as the greatest fiction thrillers-only it’s all true.
About the Author
Robert Mazur was a federal agent for 27 years. During 5 years of his law enforcement career he was a long-term undercover agent operating in deep cover within the underworld as a high-level money launderer for senior members of Colombian drug cartels. He not only dealt directly with cartel leaders, but also functioned as their counduit to corrupt international bankers around the world. He is court-certified in both the U.S. and Canada as an expert in money laundering. Mr. Mazur has been a significant contributor to news and media outlets, including The New York Times, PBS, ABC and NBC.
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Back Bay Books; Media Tie In edition (June 21, 2016)
The movie only scratches the surface, but the book is the real deal
The Hollywood version pulls too many punches and doesn’t explore the deeper implications.
As an undercover agent for the U.S. Customs Service, Robert Mazur conducted a remarkably successful money laundering investigation. It led to a well-publicized bust involving Colombian drug traffickers and complicit bankers, including an international banking giant BCCI. This bank was appropriately nicknamed “Bank of Crooks and Criminals International” by Robert Gates when he was acting as the CIA’s Deputy Director. BCCI openly catered to numerous organized crime outfits such as drug traffickers, arms dealers, warlords, etc. This bank was able to conduct such flagrant activity due to their numerous political connections, which they gained by offering sweetheart loans to government officials as soft bribes. In addition, BCCI essentially served as a slush fund for intelligence agencies to pay various criminal organizations for their covert operations.
The film comes up short by only touching upon this issue, but Mazur’s book goes into great detail about this vast corruption. He explains that numerous U.S. banking giants openly pursue this drug money and that the Federal Reserve turns a blind eye to this activity. He also exposed the numerous bureaucratic obstacles that impeded him from fully investigating his cast. The DEA blocked him from pursuing our allies in Panama and Customs barred him from digging further into the CIA’s links to BCCI. Also, the investigation was cut short to land a splashy headline in the newspapers.
Long story short, the U.S. government has numerous links with organized crime outfits and Mazur does a masterful job of explaining the reasons and circumstances behind this corruption.
Bringing down the financial house of Drugs, Inc., One Cartel at a time
For five years during the late 1980s, Robert Mazur played the undercover role of “Bob Musella,” custom agent pretending to be an international banker and investor, extraordinaire. With a high quality tape recorder constantly running inside the walls of his expensive briefcase, Mazur managed to gain enough trust of both the Escobar and Ochoa brothers in-house bankers, to worm his way inside the cartels inner sanctums, and then up their respective financial food chains eventually enticing each to both launder and invest tens of millions of dollars per month through the notorious international bank, BCCI.
The reader may recall that BCCI, during the Carter administration, along with Manual Noriega’s banks in Panama, were the money laundering hubs of the South American drug cartels. Thus, gaining Escobar and Ochoa’s trust was only part one of a two-part Custom’s Department “financial con game,” one which, when the two parts were taken together, was a dangerous but carefully designed ruse by Robert Mazur to bring down the entire drug-based money laundering financial machine.
The second part of course was convincing BCCI that Musella was also the sole financial representative of a number of anonymous high-roller clients who had hundreds of millions of dollars to wash and to invest — that is, with the right international bank.
It turns out that the right international bank in this case meant one with the right amount of efficiency, technical savvy, and discretion: in other words, a bank that could transfer monies electronically anywhere in the world without leaving a paper trail, avoid all national taxes, currency regulations, etc., and would ask no questions about the source of the funds.
In clear violation of virtually all the international banking laws known to man, BCCI’s top management fell all over themselves as they swore on a stack of bibles (and right into Mazur’s hidden tape recorder), that they were indeed the bank that could meet all those clearly illegal conditions.
Thus, Mazur’s plan was simple, elegant and devious: it was to get parties on all sides of the illegal financial equation — drug traffickers and money laundering bankers alike — to commit themselves on audio and/or video tapes to willingly violate laws that could send them to jail for years; and then, get them to engage in the agreed to crimes; and finally, at the proper time, reel them in, round them all up, and take them to jail. QED.
This is what Richard Mazur did almost single-handedly. His fake wedding to a fellow custom’s agent named Kathy, posing as his fiancé, was the coup de grace to the con.
The book is about how Mazur befriended, conned, and then eventually rounded them up at his fake wedding, to haul them all off to jail. He did this while constantly dodging slings from bureaucratic in-fighting and a number of other headwinds like constant lack of funding, while at the same time dodging the unending landmines that the drug czars kept throwing at him. Altogether, this story is a series of drug trafficking escapades made for the movies.
The only part of the book that disappointed me was the author’s penchant for minimizing American complicity in an international money laundering institution like BCCI. Clearly the author knew much more of the truth than he shared with us in this book. For the American angle and interests kept raising their ugly heads in the form of the CIA, Jimmy Carter, Clark Clifford, Bert Lance, Oliver North, Mark Rich, Adnan Khashoggi, and GHW Bush, to name just the more obvious ones. It sort of goes without saying that Mazur’s supervisor, Bonni Tischler’s unhelpful deadlines and other interferences, clearly was nothing more than pressure from higher ups intent on defanging, if not squelching the investigation altogether.
Despite this, the author repeatedly held his fire and failed to expand on the depth of US complicity, something most astute Americans already knew about anyway. This omission was especially egregious given that the BCCI’s shenanigans in the drug trade, were just the prelude, setting the stage and serving as a template for the illegality that was just around the corner in the 2007-8 banking scandals that led to the crash of the international economy. Failing to mention what we already knew just to shield our criminal higher ups, including his boss, Bonni Tischler, left a bad taste in my mouth. But the book still gets five stars.