Former Cartel Worker Tells Story of DEA Employment and Entrapment

By McCarton Ackerman 04/14/15

Carlos Toro realizes now that his time with the cartels and the DEA were both huge mistakes.

Carlos Toro
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A former drug cartel worker who dodged jail time by becoming a DEA informant is now opening up about his service after 27 years.

Throughout his time working with the DEA, Carlos Toro helped apprehend money launderers and drug traffickers across the globe, while also testifying in court against prominent world leaders, including Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.

The DEA has even honored him for his efforts by presenting him with a lifetime achievement award in 2010. But at the age of 65, he wanted to retire and spend the rest of his years with his wife of 35 years and their two children.

But the DEA didn’t want him to and Toro claims they have full power over him. They’ve provided him with a temporary immigration document for the last five years, renewed annually, that requires him to keep assisting in investigations. If he refused, his immigration status would lapse and he’d likely be deported back to Colombia, facing a strong possibility of being killed by members of the cartels he snitched on.

"Agents are only interested in one thing, and that is numbers,” said Michael Levine, a former undercover agent who spent 25 years with the DEA.

As a child in Colombia, he developed a close friendship with a family friend named Carlos Lehder, who would go on to be one of the most influential members of the Medellin cartel. After decades of trying, he convinced Toro to work for the cartel by coordinating logistics for cocaine-smuggling operations and cutting deals with foreign leaders, among other tasks. By the mid-1980s, $10 million would come through the attic of his home on a weekly basis.

Toro later faced murder charges in the death of a female cocaine dealer he knew, but there was no evidence against him and the charges were dismissed. But during questioning by police, he admitted to buying fuel for Medellin cartel planes. He faced a minimum 15-year prison sentence for conspiracy to traffic cocaine, but accepted a no-contest plea and a clean criminal charge in exchange for being a DEA informant.

He completed his three months of service identifying cartel assets for the DEA, but shockingly agreed to expand his role with the agency. Toro found the rush of working undercover provided the same thrills he once got with the cartel.

"Deep inside, I felt that the more I contributed to the DEA, the more the government would appreciate what I do, and I could re-establish my life as a private citizen," he told Huffington Post. "I knew I screwed up, and I felt the need to atone and pay back, and to this day I feel that way."

At age 56, he left the DEA and took a job in Costa Rica as a credit and collections manager with Hewlett Packard. But after trying to enter the U.S. on a work trip, he found that his criminal record had been unsealed and he was forbidden to enter the country. He took back his old job at the DEA, but they added temporary immigration status to his contract that was contingent on him working for them.

But after discovering a tumor in his prostate that required immediate surgery, which would cost $5,000, the DEA refused to help him foot the bill. Toro eventually got the money from a former DEA colleague, but said that was the wake-up call that he needed to leave the agency. His wife now supports both of them on a modest salary, but he is hoping for a permanent resolution to his immigration woes and the ability to legally work.

"I am not denying that I was at fault by working for the cartel," said Toro. “I feel not that I deserve a medal, not that I should be compensated with money ... but that I should be recognized only as a human being who has made a huge mistake, and that I made it up over and over and over."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.