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Tall tales in drug, guns bust

TAMPA — One suspect claimed he executed an undercover cop, then buried the body.

Another said he went undercover as a New Jersey corrections officer for La Familia — the mafia.

He said he took care of inmates favored by the New Jersey mob, and harmed the ones they didn't.

They were part of a five-man crew accused of trying to trade automatic weapons for more than six pounds of cocaine in Tampa on Wednesday in a deal worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Anthony Kirk, 20, bragged about killing a cop, officials said. Joseph James Lese, 55, allegedly bragged about his mob ties.

They were arrested on federal drug and firearms charges along with Luis Santiago, 22; Edgardo Pena-Sepulveda, 20; and Jonathan Pena-Sepulveda, 19.

Authorities think the men may have just been trying to show off during a six-month undercover operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"It certainly would not be uncommon to have some fabricated stories thrown out in an undercover situation," said special agent Paul Canup. "They're trying to beef up their criminal resumes, if you will."

• • •

The investigation started July 27 when Kirk approached a confidential informant for the agency in Lehigh Acres near Fort Myers, according to a federal arrest report.

The informant introduced Kirk to an undercover agent. Kirk believed the agent was a "large-scale narcotics trafficker," according to the report.

Kirk volunteered his "services" as a bill collector. He told the agent he had a crew of "killers" armed with AK-47 assault rifles.

In August, the report said, Kirk told the agent that he had learned the year before that an undercover officer had "infiltrated" his gang.

So during an undercover drug buy, Kirk told the agent, he pulled out a .38-caliber pistol and shot the cop in the head. Kirk said he buried the officer's body off State Road 82 in Lehigh Acres.

The Lee County Sheriff's Office does not believe Kirk's story.

"We're not missing any narcotics officers," said Sgt. Larry King.

• • •

Then in November, Kirk introduced the undercover agent to Lese.

Lese told the agents he wanted to sell guns and buy drugs, according to the report.

During a gun buy at a Tampa flea market in December, the report said, Lese told the undercover agent he was a retired captain from the New Jersey Department of Corrections. Lese said while following La Familia's orders he threw an inmate from the second floor, breaking his neck.

According to the New Jersey Department of Corrections, Lese retired in 2002 as a lieutenant after 20 years without incident. His personnel record was unavailable.

But the agency doesn't buy his mafia story either.

• • •

Lese portrayed himself in a different light during a federal detention hearing. He said he has no criminal record, has heart problems and cares for his mother, who lives next door and has cancer.

A U.S. magistrate ordered all five men be held without bond in the Pinellas County Jail.

Tall tales in drug, guns bust 01/17/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 19, 2009 8:04pm]
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