A high-level U.S. drug enforcement agent stationed in Mexico is facing federal charges of fraud and making false statements after he accepted international flights, cash and the promise of a post-retirement job in exchange for performing “favors” on behalf of unidentified Mexican nationals, prosecutors say.
Charging documents filed last month in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia show that Leonardo Silva, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s resident agent in charge of counternarcotics operations in northeastern Mexico, sought to have the U.S. visa of a Mexican national revoked as a favor for a co-conspirator who promised him a lucrative job overseeing a private security business upon his retirement.
Mr. Silva oversaw drug trafficking in the Mexican states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and San Luis Potosi, which is where the violent drug cartel Los Zetas is known to operate.
As the resident agent in charge, Mr. Silva abused his position when he advised the State Department in 2012 and in 2013 to cancel the U.S. visa of a Mexican national, according to court documents.
Mr. Silva fed the State Department false information indicating that the woman was a cocaine abuser and said later that she also trafficked in cocaine, leading to visa cancellations for the woman and her husband. Court papers did not identify the people or say why the co-conspirator sought to have the woman’s visa revoked.
Mr. Silva later bragged in an email to a co-conspirator about his ability to mislead the State Department.
“Today, they submitted her name and her husband’s to cancel the permit,” he said.
The co-conspirator thanked Mr. Silva and said his actions warranted a cookout and “a big hug.”
In addition, prosecutors say, Mr. Silva tried to conceal from government officials his travel in and out of Mexico and lied on forms recording the hours he had worked. Prosecutors say the agent did not inform his employers of 94 trips he took on private airplanes from 2010 through 2014. The chartered flights were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and were occasionally provided by a co-conspirator whom the investigator describes as a “law enforcement contact who supports the mission in Mexico.”
Mr. Silva was also said to have accepted $3,369 from a lawyer in Monterrey in exchange for helping find U.S. Consulate employment opportunities for the son of a mutual acquaintance.
Court records show the State Department last year asked a criminal fraud investigator from the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service to look into accusations made by a “reliable source” that Mr. Silva had tricked the department into revoking the U.S. visas. He was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and two counts of making false statements.
The DEA declined to comment on Mr. Silva’s employment status, and the State Department did not respond to an inquiry into Mr. Silva’s consultant status.
Tony Miles, the D.C.-based lawyer representing Mr. Silva, did not immediately respond to questions about the federal charges against his client.
Retired DEA agent David Wilson, executive director of the Association of Former Federal Narcotics Agents, suggested there could be more to the allegations.
“If someone in Mexico has been charged with a crime and this guy is a significant witness against him, part of his case could be: ‘If you think I’m bad, let me tell you about a government agent that has been doing X, Y and Z,’” he said.
Mr. Silva has been conducting counternarcotics operations as a DEA special agent for about 28 years, according to a public resume on professional networking website LinkedIn, which says he has been the administration’s resident in charge in Monterrey and adviser to the department for more than six years.
Prior to that, Mr. Silva oversaw an international task force that included federal agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, according to the resume.