On July 13, greatly-anticipated crime drama The Infiltrator hits movie theaters, catapulting us into the epicenter of Pablo Escobar's Colombian drug cartel life, with Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston finally on the right side of the law.
The 60-year-old is high on Hollywood's radar right now and is now gearing up to spearhead the hefty task of infiltrating enemy lines (and the dirty banks linked to them) as US federal customs agent Robert Mazur. If you haven't done so already, watch the trailer below:
Adapted from a memoir by the real Mazur — who did in fact spend many years under the guise of a drug cartel money launderer during the '80s — the movie is no Hollywood work of fiction.
So, ahead of the screening, why not familiarize yourself with what really went on within the global crime network all those decades ago? Take a look behind the scenes at the true story behind The Infiltrator, an operation that is heavily regarded as the USA's most successful undercover case in law enforcement ever:
The True Story Behind The Infiltrator
Who Is 'Bob Musella'?
After working with the Intelligence Division of the IRS, a young Robert Mazur knew that he wanted to achieve more, completing undercover school and slowly grafting a reputation for himself within undercover law enforcement circles. Upon joining the US customs office in Tampa, the agent picked his undercover name of "Musella" from a gravestone, with the man who's identity he borrowed being:
"Around his age, Italian-American, same first name and initials to avoid slipups. The feds set up [...] new identity over a six-month campaign."
Once ready, Mazur's flashy, mob-connected businessman identity was utilized for the next 7 years at the heart of some of the most deadly drug cartels in the world. If you want to know more, here's a little bit extra about how he went about polishing his disguise:
A Venture Into Deadly Territory
Learning the ins and outs of the intricate cartel system, it is almost impossible to imagine the terrifying dangers and difficulties the agent must have faced during his years in operation. Despite living in luxury homes, partying in $1,000 hotel suites, driving Rolls Royces and flying in private jets with cartel members, it was a time of calculated risks a world a way from home with some of the most ruthless men in the world — a potentially devastating career at the expense of private, family life.
Ultimately, Mazur's acting abilities and understanding of the illegal operations at hand led to a complex takedown, which brought about the arrest of over 100 drug traffickers and money launderers all over the world. Additionally, 3,200 pounds of cocaine and $100 million in cash and assets was seized, on top of $500 million in fines gathered.
In fact, the evidence he gathered proved to be overwhelmingly enough to convict Panama's General Manuel Noriega and to bring down an enormous international financial institution, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).
The institution was charged with laundering millions of dollars for cartels and trying to make the transactions appear legitimate. Speaking to the Wagner Magazine, Mazur reveals that he was always aware of the risks he put himself and his family through, yet is grateful for what he's achieved, admitting:
"I was there because I saw that this was an opportunity to do something different, to do something significant, to be a part of making a difference.”
A Life In Disguise
These days — although Mazur has published a best-selling book about his experiences titled The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel and is now the subject of a Hollywood blockbuster — he is a very private man. So private, in fact, that he doesn't show up to book signings, doesn't allow photographs to be taken of him, or for his face to appear in any TV interviews. All within good reason, of course.
Just over 20 years ago, the agent learned that a Medellin cartel had sent a hit squad to get rid of him, forcing Mazur to change his identity and move his family to another location for their own safety.
Understandably, even after all of these years, the man is right to take precautions as many of the key players in Colombia are still around. However, even this he is also not particularly keen to talk about. In a recent interview with the Tamba Bay Times, when asked if he still feels the danger, Mazur said:
"You know, I don't talk about that. I don't really feel that it's a public issue. The things I like to talk about are the underlying issues, why we have these (criminal) problems. As far as my security goes ... that's really a private thing."
An On-Going Mission To Battle Money Laundering
Although he has now officially retired from his fast-paced career as a federal agent, Mazur continues to make an impact on law enforcement. In particular, he offers his experience and expertise in money laundering to worldwide banks and government institutions, helping to educate with the intention of blasting financial crime out of the water.
However, Mazur is aware that sooner or later he will have to take a step back:
"There also comes a time in one's life when you decide, okay ... maybe Don Quixote needs to put his (lance) down and start doing other things. For now, I guess I'm still on that crusade."
Ultimately Mazur's courageous actions helped set back some of the world's most prolific cartels. However, this couldn't have been achieved without a select team of individuals.
Here are three more people who helped Mazur achieve the unachievable, and who were brought to the big screen by the following actors:
1. Roberto Alcaino
Actor: Benjamin Bratt
Played by Benjamin Bratt, Robert Alcaino is a wealthy Chilean-jeweler and main Medellin cartel money transporter who is a key player in events surrounding The Infiltrator. He is responsible for setting up a slew of seemingly reputable businesses to launder money.
Close to Pablo Escobar, he became Mazur's "direct contact" dealing with cartel board members (yes, they apparently have those too!), enabling the agent to gather more information and access out-of-reach elite levels.
2. Emir Abreu
Actor: John Leguizamo
Emir Abreu was a crucial member of Mazur's team, with some even referring to him as his right-hand man. The street-smart customs agent from Puerto Rico was the federal agent's eyes and ears on the case.
3. Kathy Ertz
Actress: Diane Kruger
Brought to life by Diane Kruger, Kathy Ertz played the part of a rookie agent pretending to be Mazur's fiancée during the entire undercover operation. In reality, her name is Kathleen Erickson and she is very much a real person.
Are you going to see The Infiltrator?