FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer complaining of money and marriage woes may have thought his troubles were over when he pulled into a Dania Beach parking lot to pick up a duffel bag stuffed with $235,000 in cash.
But that meeting Friday outside Bass Pro Shops now looks like the start of Jose Emmanuel Torres’ problems.
The 37-year-old gunnery sergeant and Iraq war veteran from Cooper City 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,” said Marine Corps South spokesman Maj. Mike Alvarez, who worked with Torres at U.S. Southern Command in Doral. “Obviously, allegations like this are not within the values of the Marine Corps.”
Torres made his first appearance in federal court Monday, but his case was reset for Wednesday so he could hire a lawyer. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 40 years in prison and a fine of more than $250,000.
Assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency, Torres regularly worked with the Defense Department, Homeland Security and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to track drug smugglers and terrorists, officials said.
According to a criminal complaint, Torres in January 2012 first met with a man at the Krome Dentention center in Miami who was attempting to obtain U.S. residency.
More than a year later, the complaint alleges, Torres asked the freed detainee for $10,000, after complaining he was not making enough money as a Marine. As an E-7 with 14 years service, Torres’ annual pay would be a little more than $40,000, according to the military pay scale.
The man understood if he did not pay, Torres could use his influence to have him arrested again, officials said.
After reporting the threat to federal authorities, Torres’ contact became an informant. The FBI began recording text messages, telephone calls, a hidden email account and Skype calls between Torres and the informant.
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.”
In November 2013, under the supervision of law enforcement agents, the informant paid Torres $6,000 for his influence in the immigration matter.
Eventually Torres asked for help in arranging to rip 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 tells the informant he doesn’t have a car.
Over the course of the investigation, federal agents said Torres arranged to meet the informant in various Broward County parking lots, including those outside T.G.I. Friday’s in Davie, Walmart Supercenter in Cooper City, a medical plaza in Weston and a Publix in Plantation.
The next-to-last meeting was held 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 that report, Torres was to get $250,000.
On Friday, the two met outside Bass Pro Shops alongside Interstate 95. In a 10:30 a.m. meeting surreptiously recorded and videotaped, the informant handed Torres a black duffle bag containing $235,000 provided by the FBI, officials said.
Torres was arrested when he took possession of the bag, officials said.
“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.