NarcoNews-Was “Mayan Jaguar” a Corrupt Undercover Op or a CIA Cover?

ICE Investigation Targeting Drug Planes Plagued by Scandal, Court Records Show

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) undercover operation involving the sale and tracking of aircraft to drug organizations played out for nearly four years in Latin America, likely allowing tons of narcotics to be flown into the US, yet it failed to result in a single prosecution in the United States, according to federal court pleadings recently discovered by Narco News.

The ICE undercover operation, dubbed Mayan Jaguar, came to a screeching halt when one of the aircraft in its sights, a Gulfstream II corporate jet, crashed on Sept. 24, 2007, in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula with nearly 4 tons of cocaine onboard. Also on that jet at the time, according to recently discovered pleadings filed in US District Court in Florida, was an ICE transponder, which was being used as a tracking device.

The court pleadings are part of a case currently pending against a Brazilian national named Joao Luiz Malago, who is facing narco-trafficking and money-laundering conspiracy charges related to an indictment filed originally in January 2012.

The presence of the tracking device on the ill-fated Gulfstream II, the court records allege, alerted Mexican authorities to the fact that the cocaine jet was on some kind of US government-sponsored mission prior to its demise. Also pointing to that fact was the Gulfstream jet’s tail number, N987SA, which past press reports have linked to CIA use — several flights between 2003 and 2005 to Guantanamo Bay, home to the infamous “terrorist” prison camp.

The court pleadings also assert that Malago was, in fact, a US government informant, who operated an alleged ICE front company called Donna Blue Aircraft Inc., which was set up in March 2007 in Florida, some seven months before it was used to sell the Gulfstream II jet to a Florida duo: Clyde O’Connor and Gregory Smith.

O’Connor and Smith purchased the jet, according to a bill of sale, a mere eight days before it crashed in Mexico with its cocaine payload onboard.

Narco News reported on the Gulfstream II jet crash and its aftermath extensively and has uncovered documents and sources indicating that Gregory Smith worked as a contract pilot for the US government, including US Customs (later rolled into ICE, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, or DHS), DEA, FBI and likely CIA.

A Narco News story published in December 2007 also revealed that the Gulfstream II jet was part of a shadowy ICE undercover operation called Mayan Express that sources claimed was “badly flawed … because it [was] being carried out unilaterally, (Rambo-style), by ICE and without the knowledge of the Mexican government” or the participation of the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

Those same sources recently confirmed for Narco News that Mayan Express and ICE’s Mayan Jaguar are one and the same.

The Informant

Malago began cooperating with ICE in 2004, the prosecution alleges in court pleadings, after being “stopped by ICE” in the US “carrying an excessive amount of money that could not be explained or justified….” He worked with ICE as the key confidential informant, or CI, for Mayan Jaguar until sometime between the spring of 2007 and the end of 2008 — a point of contention in the litigation between the prosecution and defense.

Malago’s attorneys claim his role in the undercover operation was to place “transponders on planes” that were sold to suspected narco-trafficking groups via a series of ICE front companies, the initial one called Tropical Air — later replaced, in March 2007, by Donna Blue Aircraft. In June 2008, Florida corporation records show, Donna Blue’s name was changed to North Atlantic Aircraft Services Corp. — with Malago listed as president.

Mayan Jaguar, however, was exposed, at least to Mexican officials — who had been kept in the dark about it — once the Gulfstream II jet collided with the Earth in the Yucatan in the fall of 2007.

“All of that [the US government’s role] came to a head when a plane [the Gulfstream II] crashed in Mexico carrying 3.5 tons of cocaine in September of 2007,” Frank Quintero, one of Malago’s attorneys, alleges in court pleadings filed in federal court in Florida. “…That plane crashed with the transponder that was placed on the plane by Mr. Malago.

“So when the Mexican Government called and said, 'Why is there a plane with the ICE transponder or United States Government transponder on our territory,' nobody would give any answers. It hit the fan, and they [ICE] shut down operation Mayan Jaguar.”

At that point, Malago’s attorneys allege in court pleadings, ICE agents met with Malago in Brazil and urged him to move his family to the US because his cover had been blown and his life was in danger — since his role as an informant had been exposed due to the Gulfstream II’s crash.

“ICE told him, ‘It is dangerous for you. You need to move your family up here.’ He moved his entire family up here [to Florida] and they continued to ask him to cooperate, and he continued to provide information and transactional details on every plane that he did [brokered or sold] to ICE up to the beginning or the end of 2008,” Britney B. Horstman, another attorney representing Malago, alleges in the court pleadings.

Malago, the court pleadings indicate further, is now seeking asylum in the US because he is facing the threat of deportation — ironically at the hands of the same agency, DHS, for which he worked as an informant. (Another ICE informant, in the infamous House of Death case, met with a similar fate, facing the threat of deportation after his participation in murders in Juarez, Mexico, while on ICE’s payroll, was exposed due to the near-assassination of a DEA agent and his family. See link.

“If he [Malago] goes back to Brazil, he will surely be killed,” Mycki L. Ratzan, an attorney for Malago, contends in court pleadings. “…Certainly if his cooperation was known, that he was assisting the [US] government putting transponders on planes that he was selling to individuals in South America, and those planes turned out to have narcotics, and that they were seized, I don’t think that those individuals would take kindly to that sort of cooperation.”

Malago’s attorneys also allege that the DHS Office of Inspector General is investigating two ICE agents who worked with Malago while he was an informant. The attorneys contend the investigation is focused on corrupt practices related to the Mayan Jaguar operation.

From court pleadings by Malago attorney Ratzan: …

Read the entire investigative story by Bill Conroy here @ NarcoNews: here

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  1. One or the other… anyhow the cover was blown and they had to formulate some story that gives flexibel deniebility.

  2. If Malago worked for the US government, he had to know how corrupt it is, yet he believed ICE that he’d be safer HERE???? The only ones who could protect him from deportation are the ones trying to deport him, so he apparently isn’t corrupt enough for US government standards. Maybe he should try blowing up a plane with civilians aboard? It worked for that Posada Carriles guy.

  3. This little bit I found at the linked full article..

    “”In addition, as the prosecutor in Malago’s case points out, if there is no transponder at all, then the drugs could cross into the US without setting off an alarm. In such a case, the ICE operation appears to have done little more than provide the narco-trafficking group with the means to smuggle the drugs — the aircraft itself.””

    Now, I could be wrong. But in this near police state like environment, how do planes loaded with drugs NOT get noticed and landed/searched when crossing from Mexico into the US? Is the boarder That poorly guarded? I’ve always heard it’s easy to fly into Mexico unnoticed, but try going the other way and you get noticed fast. Now if the watchers were told that plane XXX does not exist, well that makes sense given the corruption. That’s the only way I see this working successfully for so long and them never getting caught crossing into the states.

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