DEA is Stung by Arrest Case Points up the Drawbacks of Using Informants
Juan Gonzalez, one of the Drug Agency's Top Sources of Information, is Charged with Dealing in Cocaine
By Jim Leusner | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted November 21, 1993
For years, federal drug agents repeatedly tried and failed to infiltrate local cocaine-dealing organizations that had ties to Colombia: After all, they had a reputation for being cautious, violent and dealing only with friends or established customers.
Then in June 1986, an answer to drug agents' prayers arrived on the scene, a stocky Colombian named Juan Gonzalez. He was busted with 2 1/2 kilos of cocaine - 5 1/2 pounds - in a South Orlando Winn-Dixie parking lot.
Gonzalez immediately cooperated, aiding in the arrests of 30 major drug traffickers over the next five years and becoming the top informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Orlando.
Last weekend, Gonzalez was arrested with 20 kilograms of cocaine - with a street value of $1.5 million - after making a delivery to an informant. Not so ironically, he was arrested by his former employers and Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation agents.
Investigators and defense attorneys say Gonzalez is a classic example of an informant who could not stay clean, returning to his old ways and the huge profits of the drug business.
Gonzalez faces life in prison on the latest charges, and more charges may be forthcoming. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement in Orlando and a DEA office in another state are investigating Gonzalez for his ties to a multistate cocaine ring since 1991.
His attorney Mark NeJame of Orlando, said neither he nor Gonzalez would comment on the case.
Gonzalez faced a mandatory 15-year state prison sentence in 1986, but by informing, he instead received a 3 1/2 -year sentence and 25 years on probation. He served about 1 1/2 years. Because of good behavior and cooperation with authorities, Gonzalez's probation was terminated last January.
His arrest raises questions of how long Gonzalez has been back in the drug business - and whether he committed misconduct while a government operative.
" This guy set up so many people and God only knows how long he's been double-dealing," said Orlando attorney Robert Leventhal, who represented clients in two separate cases made by Gonzalez in the late 1980s. "Every case he did should be looked at again. "
Several law enforcement officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Gonzalez had not worked for DEA in a few years. They also said they are unaware of Gonzalez dealing drugs while an informant.
In fact, investigators say they didn't receive concrete information about Gonzalez's activities until the Nov. 11 arrest of a Seminole County man. Court records show the man cooperated and identified Gonzalez as his cocaine supplier for the last year. He then set up a deal with Gonzalez, who was arrested by the DEA Nov. 13 with 20 kilos at a Holiday Inn parking lot near Universal Studios Florida.
Jack Rowe, a supervisor in DEA's Orlando office, said agency policy does not allow him to comment on whether someone was an informant. He said his agency knew that Gonzalez had been under investigation by the DEA and other agencies for months.
" If we catch any of our informants involved in drug trafficking, we will try to put them in jail where they belong," Rowe said.
After his latest arrest, Gonzalez admitted his involvement and again cooperated with investigators. He then arranged a 19-kilogram sale to Perry Mason, 43, of Orlando, a man he said was a crack cocaine dealer, according to an affidavit by DEA agent A.J. Collazo.
Gonzalez and Mason were arrested on cocaine conspiracy and trafficking charges. Authorities discovered $381,000 in cash in Mason's home and truck.
Both were held without bail.
Juan Gonzalez was born in Colombia on Sept. 5, 1961. Or was it Sept. 6, 1967?
Court and motor vehicle records and investigators say Gonzalez has used at least two dates of birth, two Social Security numbers and two different spellings of his last name.
Much about his shadowy life remains unclear, including when he entered the country.
By 1986, at age 24, he was working as a Walt Disney World foreman and dealing ounces of cocaine on the side, court records show. One investigator later testified that Gonzalez was arrested in his first multikilo deal. Gonzalez was arrested after an associate lied that the buyers - undercover DEA agents - were friends.
"And I trusted him and I got busted," Gonzalez said in a 1986 Orange County Circuit Court deposition.
"Not real funny, is it? " state prosecutor Tim Berry asked.
"I guess not, but that's life," Gonzalez said. "You play, you pay, right? "
Gonzalez had worked for DEA for 10 months when Orange County Circuit Judge Ted Coleman sentenced him to 3 1/2 years in prison in April 1987. Court records show Gonzalez was considered for the federal Witness Protection Program, but for unknown reasons, Gonzalez did not enter it. After his release from prison in late 1988, he again went to work for DEA.
Several investigators who worked with Gonzalez said he was a successful informant because he was low key. One agent described him as a "mama's boy," partly because he lived with his mother for several years as an adult.
Others remembered his white Mercedes and flashy jewelry, which enabled him to mix with drug dealers. Another remembered his personable manner and attempts to quiz him about electronic listening devices and police surveillance techniques.
"That guy could do no wrong," another investigator said. "He was a great CI," an abbreviation for confidential informant.
The full scope of his work has not been disclosed by law enforcement, but court records, defense attorneys and sources familiar with Gonzalez indicate he is responsible for at least 30 arrests, the seizure of 46 kilograms of cocaine (100 pounds), $525,000 in cash and jewelry, several luxury cars, a house and several guns.
Those arrests, involving many Colombians, enabled DEA and other agencies to identify several key traffickers linked to major drug organizations. Many of those charged pleaded guilty; virtually all of the others were convicted.
In a rare federal courtroom appearance in January 1990, Gonzalez testified that he worked on 15 cases for the agency. He said he was paid $2,000 for his work in that case, and made more as the deals got bigger.
After his release from prison, Gonzalez dabbled in the limousine, tour guide and dry-cleaning businesses before going to work for a Winter Park real estate investment company.
A financial affidavit filed by Gonzalez in federal court shows he earned $2,000 a month with the real estate company. He stated he earned no other income from other work during the past year, which also would include informant's pay.
Gonzalez also is listed owning a $100,000 Seminole County condominium and other real estate valued at $105,000, and as having debts of $156,000.
One acquaintance of Gonzalez, who insisted on anonymity, said Gonzalez was a serious but friendly guy who worked day and night in real estate and his family's dry-cleaning business.
" If you went to lunch with him, he was always on the car phone or going to a pay phone," the friend said. "His whole life was business."
Ultimately it was Gonzalez's return to the wrong business that got him in trouble.
" They get in with DEA (as informants) and then they think, 'As long as I keep them happy, they won't be looking at me,' " said one drug agent who had worked with Gonzalez. "But he got caught the same way he helped catch everyone else. He trusted the wrong guy."
Source: Orlando Sentinel