Federal Operation Used for Trafficking : Veteran of FBI Pleads Guilty to Drug Charges

Times Staff Writer

An 11-year FBI veteran who went into business with the cocaine dealers he was supposed to be investigating pleaded guilty Thursday to bribery, conspiracy and drug-trafficking charges in a Miami federal courtroom.

The former agent, Dan A. Mitrione Jr., 38, contritely admitted the three charges against him, including his acceptance of $850,000 in cash and real estate for turning a federal undercover operation into a well-sheltered scheme to sell cocaine in Pittsburgh and South Florida.

Mitrione, who left the FBI in June, 1983, to start a construction business, is believed to be the first agent implicated in a major drug case, agency spokesman Ed Gooderham said in Washington.

But Mitrione is only one of many federal, state and local law enforcement agents who recently have been caught changing sides in the drug war.

'Exposed, Rooted Out'

"The corrupting power of drug money is one of the obvious reasons why this No. 1 crime problem must be conquered in our country," FBI Director William H. Webster said in a statement released after the guilty plea. "It must be exposed and rooted out wherever it may be found. This sad case illustrates our relentless determination to police our own ranks."

The charges against Mitrione were filed Thursday after a plea agreement was made with prosecutors. However, the deal does not call for any reduced prison time. The former agent faces a possible sentence of 45 years as well as fines of more than $2.5 million--three times what he illegally gained.

Mitrione worked from June, 1982, until January, 1983, on the FBI's Operation Airlift. "Its purpose became perverted," U.S. Atty. Stanley Marcus said of the undercover investigation.

Panama Operation

During that time, Marcus explained in court, Mitrione traveled to Panama with a confidential informant. Their aim was to lure traffickers into an FBI net.

Instead, in December, 1982, Mitrione permitted the informant to go back into business with part of a cocaine shipment to Kokomo, Ind. In return, he received $3,500 and a watch worth $9,000.

In January, 1983, the FBI agent agreed to drive a cocaine-laden truck from Kokomo to South Florida in exchange for a share of the profits.

"He offered a safe way to transport the cocaine since he could identify himself as an FBI agent if stopped," Marcus said.

Later that year, Mitrione told his supervisors of a large cocaine shipment expected in Memphis, Tenn. He seized the goods and turned in 193 kilos of it. Another 42 kilos, however, were given to the informant for sale in Pittsburgh and other cities.

$850,000 Payment

For this, the agent received $850,000 in cash and real estate investments, Marcus said.

"Are you sure you wish to waive your right to trial?" U.S. District Judge Eugene Spellman repeatedly asked Mitrione.

"Yes, I do," replied the former agent, who answered all questions directed toward him with firm, clipped responses.

"Of course, these would be things agent Mitrione was well familiar with from years on the job," the judge concluded, satisfied that a longtime FBI man fully knew the meaning of a courtroom confession.

Mitrione is the son of the late Dan Mitrione Sr., a one-time Richmond, Ind., police chief. After he became a consultant in police methods for the U.S. Agency for International Development, the elder Mitrione was kidnaped and killed in 1970 by Uruguayan leftist guerrillas.

He left nine children, including his namesake, who followed his father into law enforcement.

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