Colombian Cali Cartel cocaine trafficker pleaded guilty today for
bribing a former Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent to
secure the dismissal of a drug trafficking indictment filed against him,
announced Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the
Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
Jose Bayron Piedrahita-Ceballos, 60, of Medellin, Colombia, was
extradited from the Republic of Colombia on April 5, 2019, and will be
sentenced on July 19, 2019, before U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola
Jr. of the Southern District of Florida.
According to admissions in the plea agreement,
Piedrahita-Ceballosoffered 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. 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
represent to decision makers that Piedrahita-Ceballos was “unidentified”
and that his case should be dismissed because “all investigative
efforts” were “exhausted” all while maintaining contact with
Piedrahita-Ceballos. Ciccone also falsified the concurrence of several
other federal agents and attempted to parole Piedrahita-Ceballos into
the United States through the United States Department of State.
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.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Professional
Responsibility, Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector
General 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.