The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reportedly quietly booted former top official in Mexico over alleged ties to Miami-based defense attorneys representing accused narcotraffickers.
Nicholas Palmeri served just a 14-month stint as the DEA's Regional Director of North and Central Americas Region, based in Mexico City. He was abruptly transferred to Washington headquarters in May 2021 before he was forced to retire last March from the federal agency where he worked for over two decades.
The Associated Press, citing confidential records, reported Friday that Palmeri's socializing and vacationing with Miami drug lawyers brought his ultimate downfall.
According to the AP, internal investigative records show Miami defense attorney David Macey hosted Palmeri and his Mexican-born wife for two days at his home in the Florida Keys - a trip that investigators said served no useful work purpose and violated rules governing interactions with attorneys that are designed to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
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Palmeri's case adds to a growing litany of misconduct roiling the nation's premier narcotics law enforcement agency at a time when its sprawling foreign operations - spanning 69 countries - are under scrutiny from an external review ordered by DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.
That review came in response to the case of Jose Irizarry, a disgraced former agent now serving a 12-year federal prison sentence after confessing to laundering money for Colombian drug cartels and skimming millions from seizures to fund an international joyride of jet-setting, parties and prostitutes.
Palmeri's is the second case in recent months to shine a light on the often-cozy interactions between DEA officials and Miami attorneys representing some of Latin America's biggest narcotraffickers and money launderers.
Last year, federal prosecutors charged a DEA agent and a former supervisor with leaking confidential law enforcement information to two unnamed Miami defense attorneys in exchange for $70,000 in cash. Current and former U.S. officials identified one of those lawyers as Macey, the AP reported.
Palmeri, 52, acknowledged to investigators that he stayed at Macey's getaway home, that his wife worked as a translator for another prominent attorney, Ruben Oliva, and that he took an unauthorized trip to Miami with his wife in February 2021. The purported purpose of the Miami trip had been to "debrief" a confidential source. But it took place at a private home where Palmeri showed up with his wife - and a bottle of wine, according to the internal report.
"The meeting had the appearance of a social interaction with a confidential source," the investigators wrote, "and there was no contemporaneous official DEA documentation concerning the substance of the debrief, both of which violate DEA policy."
Palmeri told investigators he had shown "not the best judgment" and was transferred to DC.
According to the AP, separate internal probes raised other red flags, including complaints of lax handling of the coronavirus pandemic that resulted in two sickened agents having to be airlifted out of the country. And another disclosed last week found Palmeri approved the use of drug-fighting funds for inappropriate purposes and sought to be reimbursed to pay for his own birthday party.
Shortly after his arrival in Mexico in 2020, the AP reported that some agents complained about his near-obsession with capturing Rafael Caro Quintero, the infamous drug lord behind the killing of a U.S. DEA agent in 1985, saying Palmeri prioritized that over the agency's less-flashy efforts to stem the flow of Chinese precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl. Quintero was finally taken into custody last summer, months after the DEA recalled Palmeri to Washington.
"The DEA holds its 10,000 employees to the highest standards of conduct and professionalism," a DEA spokesperson said in an email to Fox News Digital Sunday, without providing specifics about Palmeri's departure. "When an employee is found to have not lived up to those standards, DEA takes decisive action, including removal from the agency."
In an email to the AP, Palmeri described the misconduct probes as a "witch hunt" prompted by personal and professional jealousies and "an ill-conceived narrative to remove me from my position."
Palmeri added that his relationships with attorneys have "always been professional and ethical," and that all his expenditures in Mexico were "judicious" and benefited the U.S. government.
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"It is ironic," Palmeri wrote in an email, "that the Department of 'Justice' would commit this injustice to the country."
Fox News Digital also reached out to Palmeri on LinkedIn but did not immediately hear back.
Oliva told AP the translation work Palmeri's wife did for him was "totally unrelated" to Palmeri and that he's "never met a more ethical, hard-working and highly effective drug enforcement agent."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.