Juan F. Martinez was a “corrupt” federal agent who pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from informants while extorting a Colombian business and drug traffickers with the power of his badge, a prosecutor told Miami jurors Wednesday.
Martinez, a suspended Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, knew nothing about the suspicious payoffs that swirled around him and that his informants were the real criminals, a defense attorney countered during opening statements of his client’s federal extortion trial.
“What the prosecutor said isn’t true,” attorney Martin Raskin told the 12 jurors.
Martinez, 48, faces up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted of an extortion conspiracy charge or related offenses in a 12-count indictment filed last December. His trial is expected to last three weeks before U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga.
Martinez, who joined ICE in 2001 before being suspended without pay a decade later, has investigated Colombian cartels, paramilitary groups and other drug traffickers.
The charges allege that Martinez used his official ICE position to extort more than $2 million from a Colombian company, some of its employees and drug traffickers in exchange for purported law-enforcement protection and immigration benefits between 2009 and 2011, according to prosecutors Michael Nadler and Karen Gilbert.
Martinez, a one-time Miami police officer, became the target of a federal criminal investigation after undercover agents spotted him during a March, 29, 2011 meeting with a Colombian drug-trafficking informant at the touristy Bayside Marketplace in downtown Miami.
The informant gave Martinez a bag stuffed with more than $100,000 in alleged cash bribes — courtesy of the Colombian company that they were shaking down, prosecutors said.
Unbeknownst to Martinez, Drug Enforcement Administration agents stumbled onto Martinez that March day because they had been investigating his informant, Jose Miguel Aguirre-Pinzon, whom they saw make the alleged cash delivery at Bayside, according to sources familiar with the probe.
Martinez was later stopped by DEA agents on his way back to ICE’s field office in west Miami-Dade. DEA agents found the alleged payoff stashed inside Martinez’s car.
“That is the day that the house of cards built by the defendant with lies and deceit began to crumble,” Nadler told jurors during opening statements.
But Raskin, the defense attorney, said the payoff was not what it appeared to be. “The money was given to Agent Martinez to hold over night because Miguel [the informant] was afraid to hold the money in his hotel room over night,” he said.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
“What the prosecutor said isn’t true.”
That was Marty Raskin doing his best My Cousin Vinny in opening statements for the ICE agent on trial before Judge Altonaga. The Herald has the details: