Miami, Florida - A Colombian Cali Cartel cocaine trafficker pleaded guilty Friday 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-Ceballos offered 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.