A real estate broker was leaving the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant in Fort Myers, Fla., when a sheriff’s deputy pulled him over for an alleged traffic violation.
The Dec. 16 stop escalated when Deputy Niko Irizarry, with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, said he suspected there were illegal substances in the car, according to arrest warrants reviewed by The Washington Post.
With the help of drug-sniffing dogs, law enforcement found more than 50 bags of opioids, methamphetamines and other pills, police records show. Irizarry arrested the real estate broker and allegedly signed an affidavit stating he had witnessed the man putting the drugs in his car.
But the sheriff’s office now says the arrest was a setup. Irizarry, 25, was fired and charged with felony misconduct, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno announced on Friday. The deputy, investigators said, had made a deal with a friend to arrest the victim in exchange for sexual favors and a trip to Europe.
“Nobody is above the law,” Marceno said at a news conference. “And that includes our deputies.”
The plot was allegedly orchestrated by Charles Custodio, 36, who investigators said sought revenge for the broker’s role in sending Custodio to jail in a previous case. Custodio then recruited Scott Snider, 29, to pose as a potential real estate client and plant the drugs in the broker’s car, Marceno said.
Custodio and Snider were charged with drug trafficking, possession and conspiracy.
It is unclear from court records whether Irizarry, Custodio and Snider have attorneys.
The elaborate plot began on Dec. 12, when Custodio texted Irizarry to discuss a plan to have the real estate broker arrested for drug possession, records show. Custodio allegedly said he had a friend he could get to plant the narcotics in the man’s car and suggested Irizarry then carry out the arrest.
“During these conversations, Custodio offered Irizarry sexual favors and to take him to dinner in Paris for helping him,” Irizarry’s arrest warrant says. “Irizarry agreed to help Custodio and told Custodio to delete their text conversations.”
Custodio had a “personal hatred for our victim,” Marceno, the sheriff, said. According to Custodio’s arrest warrant, the real estate broker was a witness in a previous case against Custodio, which led to Custodio losing his nursing license, pleading guilty to crimes and spending time in jail. Investigators did not provide further details about the previous charges.
Pretending to be a man named Shane Carroll, Custodio emailed the real estate broker about buying a home in Fort Myers and arranged for the two of them to meet at 5 p.m. on Dec. 15, the arrest warrant says. Because the victim would recognize Custodio, Snider attended the meeting, pretending to be Carroll, and brought with him a black briefcase containing the drugs, investigators said.
The two met in a parking lot, and Snider — as Carroll — allegedly got into the broker’s car and put the briefcase in the back seat before the two drove to a property. After viewing the home, Snider spent several minutes rifling through the briefcase, claiming he was looking for paperwork, investigators said. But the victim grew suspicious and soon dropped off Snider at a restaurant parking lot, according to the arrest warrant.
During the encounter, Irizarry and Custodio covertly surveilled Snider and the real estate broker, investigators said.
The following day, the broker received a text from “Carroll” requesting to meet again around 5 p.m. so he could show his wife the home. The broker agreed, but as the meeting time neared, Custodio — as Carroll — allegedly texted, saying his wife was in an accident and that they couldn’t make it.
As the broker drove away, he was pulled over by Irizarry, who found fentanyl, methamphetamine, oxycodone, Xanax, MDMA and amphetamine pills. The deputy then arrested the broker on the drug offenses, the arrest warrant says.
In January, the Lee County Sheriff Office’s internal affairs division received a tip “that caused us concern that the arrest was not lawful,” Marceno said. “I immediately assigned a major crimes task force to begin an investigation into the arrest.”
The investigation uncovered “an elaborate conspiracy to plant illegal drugs in the victim’s vehicle and arrange for a traffic stop on that vehicle after the drugs were planted” by Snider, Marceno added.
The charges against the victim were dropped. Once investigators learned of Irizarry’s involvement, Marceno said the deputy was placed on leave. Irizarry and Custodio were arrested on Friday in Florida, Marceno said, and Snider was arrested in Texas.
“Those who engaged in this disgusting conduct are now in jail where they belong,” Marceno said.
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