Jose Emmanuel Torres, a U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer from Cooper City, may have thought his financial woes were over when he pulled into a Dania Beach parking lot to pick up a duffel bag stuffed with $235,000 in cash, according to Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida on Monday.
Complaining of money and marriage woes, a meeting outside Bass Pro Shops on Friday now looks like the start of Torres’ problems.
The 37-year-old gunnery sergeant and Iraq war veteran faces charges of federal bribery, exceeding authorized access to a government computer and extortion after he was arrested during the dramatic conclusion to a sting operation two years in the making.
While Torres thought he had enlisted an immigrant seeking residency to help him rip off drug money from Colombian smugglers, he was actually being monitored by federal agents, according to the FBI.
“We take allegations like this very seriously,” Marine Corps South spokesman Maj. Mike Alvarez, who worked with Torres at U.S. Southern Command in Doral stated in a prepared release. “Obviously, allegations like this are not within the values of the Marine Corps.”
Making his first appearance in federal court on Monday, Torres’ case was reset until Wednesday so he could hire an attorney. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 40 years in prison and a fine of more than $250,000.
According to officials, Torres was assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency and regularly worked with the Defense Department, Homeland Security and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to track suspected drug smugglers and terrorists.
According to a criminal complaint, Torres first met with a man who was attempting to obtain U.S. residency at the Krome Detention Center in January, 2012.
More than a year later, the complaint alleges, Torres asked the now freed detainee for $10,000, after complaining he was not making enough money as a U.S. Marine. As an E-7 with 14 years of service, Torres’ annual pay was approximately $40,000, according to the military pay scale.
The freed detainee understood that if he did not pay, Torres would use his influence to have him arrested again, officials said.
After reporting the threat to federal authorities, Torres’ contact became a confidential informant. The FBI began recording text messages, telephone calls, a hidden email account and Skype calls between him and Torres.
In one message, sent in October 2013 and translated from Spanish, Torres said, “Brother, if you can help me with this, I promise that you will not go to jail, even if I have to put my neck on the line.”
About two weeks later, still pressing for money, Torres wrote, “I do not want to rush you or annoy you. I have never been in a situation like I am in now. I am even embarrassed.”
Under the supervision of law enforcement agents, the informant paid Torres $6,000 in November for his influence with the immigration matter.
Torres later asked the man for help in ripping off a drug delivery or a stash house, officials said.
The criminal complaint provides no details of Torres’ marital problems or his financial straits. In one monitored conversation, he advised the confidential informant that he did not own a vehicle.
Over the course of the investigation, the informant met Torres in various Broward County parking lots, including T.G.I. Friday’s in Davie, the Walmart Supercenter in Cooper City, and a medical plaza in Weston as well as a Publix in Plantation.
The next-to-last meeting was held last Wednesday outside Publix, officials said.
Agents watched nearby as Torres gave the informant, who was wearing a recording device, a four-page Drug Enforcement Agency seizure report to show Colombian drug smugglers that agents had intercepted $500,000 of their money.
In exchange for the seizure report, Torres was to get $250,000.
On Friday, according to officials, the pair met outside Bass Pro Shops alongside Interstate 95 in Dania Beach. In the surreptitiously recorded and videotaped meeting, the informant handed Torres a black duffle bag containing $235,000 in cash provided by the FBI.
Torres was arrested when he took possession of the bag.
“He was arrested without incident,” said FBI spokesman Michael Leverock.
A native of Puerto Rico, Torres enlisted in 1999, and served in Iraq from September 2009 until January 2010, according to the Marine Corps.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Torres has no criminal history in Florida.
Bill Lewis is principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates, a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.