Thursday, October 22, 2009
ISLANDER'S MISSION INSIDE THE DEADLY GLOBAL DRUG TRADE
Federal agent tells of going undercover to crack intricate money-laundering web
By JEFF HARRELL
Wagner College alumnus Robert Mazur '72 will be speaking on campus Monday, Oct. 26 at 6 p.m. in Spiro Hall, Room 2. The public is invited.
There was a champagne toast.
Bob Musella, a New York City businessman with a mobster’s taste for money, raised his glass to his new friends and stepped deep into the dangerous world of laundering millions for the bank that backed Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cocaine cartel.
Over the next five years, during the late 1980s, Musella washed dirty drug money and forged a blood trust with international power player Amjad Awan, a Miami-based bank officer with BCCI — the Bank of Credit and Commerce International — who personally served the money-laundering needs of Panama’s dictator Manuel Noriega.
Ziauddin Akbar, BCCI’s treasurer, who laundered money for Noriega with backing from Saudi Arabia’s intelligence community, and cocaine trafficker Roberto Alcaino, a middleman between the Medellin cartel and the Russian mob, also entrusted Musella to hide millions handed down from Escobar himself.
Musella lived in lavish homes. Partied in $1,000 hotel suites. Drove Rolls-Royce convertibles. Flew on the Concorde when he wasn’t using a private jet. Gave exclusive gifts, once handing Alcaino a $25,000 gold cross. And invited them all to his elaborate wedding at Palm Harbor’s ritzy Innisbrook Resort, bedecked with $20,000 worth of Colombian red roses.
Suddenly, Musella ripped off his mask, reintroduced himself as federal agent Robert Mazur and crashed his own fake nuptials by busting the entire network — a virtual who’s who of global banking and drug cartel powerbrokers.
Mazur, Staten Island-born and -bred, lived to tell about his undercover work inside the unscrupulous financial system that backed a billion-dollar drug empire in his book, “The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside The Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel.”
Published in July by Little, Brown & Company, the 384-page hardcover book lists at $25.99. A movie based on “The Infiltrator” is also reportedly in the works, but to date no information is available regarding cast, crew or a projected release date.
“I felt I had an obligation here,” Mazur, 59, reasoned over the phone from his office in Tampa as to why he went public with a story from 20 years ago that remains a threat to his life, as well as his family’s, to this day. “I’m not a hero. I’m not the all-star. I am a member of a team who got the privilege to serve the public in a very unique capacity.”
Mazur grew up in Mariners Harbor and Port Richmond, and graduated from Port Richmond High School and Wagner College. He married and settled in Prince’s Bay.
While at Wagner, Mazur stumbled on his career as a federal agent when he read an announcement for a job opening at the Intelligence Division of the IRS.
When the IRS built its case against the bank that laundered millions for Harlem heroin trafficker Frank Lucas, Mazur learned early on how important banks were to major dealers who raked in millions dealing narcotics.
“Without their help, Lucas’s dirty mountain of cash was a huge liability. It drew too much attention,” Mazur writes in the book. “It dawned on me then that the Achilles’ heel of the drug trade was the banks that supplied it with money-laundering services.”
CREATE A PAST
Before he could go undercover, Mazur had to create an identity. Looking back through files seized from the California castle of marijuana smuggler Bruce Perlowin, Mazur found what he describes in the book as “a perfect match.”
Like Mazur’s mother, “Robert Musella” was Italian-American, similar in age and shared the same first name, which allowed Mazur to react instinctively should his name be called out in a stressful situation. Plus, the surname began with M: Monogrammed shirts posed no problem.
By the time Mazur embarked on the federal string dubbed Operation C-Chase, FBI and CIA labs in Washington, D.C., had armed Mazur and his fellow federal infiltrators with phony birth certificates and Social Security numbers that helped them land driver’s licenses, checking and savings accounts, and credit cards.
Mazur left his personal life behind and became Robert Musella. The bankers and drug traffickers he would try to set up were very rich, very powerful, extremely intelligent and keenly sensitive to those out to destroy their empires.
Escobar was ruthless. Even his attorney and top adviser, Santiago Uribe Ortiz, had no problem with assassinations. One word or glance in the wrong direction, especially while sitting across a table from Ortiz, and Mazur was a dead man.
“It was mentally exhausting — I dealt with it,” Mazur says. “As a survival defense mechanism, I had to compartmentalize my personal life — my home, personal life — in a certain segment of my brain and shut that down.”
After 27 years as a special agent for the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, the Customs Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration, Mazur called it quits and now works as president of Chase and Associates, a private-investigation agency that advises law firms and public companies on anti-money laundering compliance and risk assessment.
Mazur’s marriage endured and he still keeps his personal life at home. Somebody may still be gunning for the federal agent who separated himself from his family to help take down a worldwide money-laundering drug empire.
“I was fortunate in that I had a spouse who not only had children that she was raising, but also had a career of her own,” Mazur says. “She had a very active role in the leadership of our family. If it wasn’t for her and her strength, I probably wouldn’t be here now.”
* * *
BOOK SIGNING — Robert Mazur will be making a presentation
and answering questions about his book
WHEN — The session will take place on Monday at 6 p.m.
on the Wagner College campus (Spiro Hall, Rm. 2).
A book signing will follow; books will be available for purchase.
WEB SITE — More information about the book
and the related movie can be found at www.the-infiltrator.com.