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Robert Mazur details his time as an agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Undercover at the vile Narcos: Robert Mazur talks about his time as an agent with the US Drug Enforcement Administration

  • Robert Mazur was an undercover agent with the US Drug Enforcement Administration
  • He describes the preparations needed to convince smugglers that he was an international money launderer named Robert Baldasare
  • In his new book, Mazur can bring these great criminals and their world to life

THE BETRAYAL

by Robert Mazury (Icon £14.99, 320pp)

One of the recording devices Robert Mazur used during his time as an undercover agent with the US Drug Enforcement Administration was hidden in a sunglasses case.

Anyone taking the designer screens out of the case would have discovered the small recorder underneath.

Upon entering a government building in Panama — where corrupt officials were routinely paid by drug cartels — Mazur was shocked to find that his belongings had to go through an X-ray machine.

Undercover: Bryan Cranston as Mazur in the 2016 film The Infiltrator. Robert Mazur was an undercover agent with the US Drug Enforcement Administration

Undercover: Bryan Cranston as Mazur in the 2016 film The Infiltrator. Robert Mazur was an undercover agent with the US Drug Enforcement Administration

Protesting would arouse suspicion, so he put the suitcase on the conveyor belt and continued. “Sir, please come here,” the guard said. Mazur’s heart stopped as he turned.

“Sir, you almost forgot your glasses,” the guard continued. “He was talking,” explains Mazur, “with a very attractive young female guard, who was more attentive than the screen.”

It’s the kind of detail you’d expect from the Narcos TV series. If you’re a fan of that, you’ll love this book, the thriller-like tale of Mazur’s undercover activities in the fight against South American drug traffickers and his mission to expose the infamous Cali cartel.

In particular, it’s the story of how his operation – yes, even his life – was endangered by a treacherous colleague who passed information back to the criminals.

The preparations needed to convince smugglers that Mazur was really who he said he was – an international money launderer named Robert Baldasare – is incredible.

THE BETRAY by Robert Mazur (Icon £14.99, 320pp)

THE BETRAY by Robert Mazur (Icon £14.99, 320pp)

The name came from a tombstone, which allowed Mazur to assume the identity of the dead man. After that, he had to study for and pass the mortgage broker’s exams so that the paperwork for his “front” business would be correct.

The lives of everyone – criminals and police alike – were steeped in mistrust. Conversations took place in code: “Five hundred boxes of fruit” meant $500,000; if someone was ‘sick’, that meant he had been arrested; an invoice number faxed to Mazur had to be divided by five to get the seven-digit phone number to call.

To make a wiretapped conversation admissible as evidence, he had to make the criminals clear. “What do you mean, ‘blocks’?” he asked a human trafficker. It took several iterations of the question before the answer came back: “Cocaine.” Those were nerve-wracking minutes for Mazur.

He is a good storyteller, with a sense of detail that brings the criminals and their world to life. In Panama City, even McDonald’s has guards armed with AK-47s.

A cartel member recalled what would happen if Mazur turned out to be a Fed: “I took a lot of pictures while we were with you in Sarasota… yours and your wife’s came out very clear.”

And—as a reminder that even tragedies contain elements of farce—there’s the woman who was given the choice of letting the police enter her home herself so they could search for evidence, or have her door broken open. She chose the former. “If they knock down that door, they better not let my damn cat out.”

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