“I had a private jet. I had homes in Tampa and Miami. I had an apartment in New York and went to private clubs, and stayed in the best hotels. But they were all props. I wasn’t attracted to that lifestyle.
“What attracted me was being able to get information that no-one else could ever possibly get.”
It is this staunch and unerring dedication to uncovering the truth that drives Robert Mazur. Now 65, the US Special Agent is as compelled by honesty as he ever was – only now, his honesty isn’t selective, and everybody knows who he really is.
But that wasn’t always that case. For, during the 1980s, there was a time when Robert Mazur didn’t exist. If he had, he would have been killed – on the orders of drug lord Pablo Escobar.
“I was law enforcement officer in the traditional sense for more than a decade,” Mazur tells me during the promotion of The Infiltrator, a recently-released crime drama film that stars Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston as Mazur.
“I used to work with informants, get search warrants and put cases together with historical witnesses.
“And then,” Mazur continues, “I was put on a task force responsible for identifying the highest level money launderers for the cartel.”
During this period, the Medellin Cartel was bringing more than 15 tons of cocaine – worth $70 million – into the United States every day. With profits rising, and the drugs taking hold of more and more of the American public, Pablo Escobar became the 7th richest man in the world.
“After using traditional techniques,” Mazur recalls, “we collectively came to the conclusion that the most effective tool we could use would be a long-term undercover approach. I was an administration and finance major, had an accounting background and had worked in a bank and a brokerage firm – so I was really the perfect candidate to play the role of a money launderer.
“So I volunteered, and they put me into undercover training – which was critically important. If I hadn’t have done that, I would have crashed and burned.”
Mazur spent his time in undercover training being profiled by psychologists. The agent tells me that, in the most simplistic terms, the trainers appeared to look for people who had a very defined idea of right and wrong – those who saw the world as black and white.
“I learned how to protect myself, what sixth senses I’d need to pick up and how to avoid major pitfalls such as Stockholm Syndrome. And I obviously learned to how effectively build a long term undercover identity.”
To craft his undercover persona, Mazur spent almost two years creating Bob Musella with the help of several informants, consulting businessmen and the US Customs Service. The key, Mazur tells me, was to make Musella as close to his own personality as possible, with one key exception – he was a criminal.
“I had many of the same core features and talents as Musella,” says Mazur. “We were both born around the same time in the New York City Metropolitan area, to Italian American parents. We were both college educated, had a background in administration and finance, worked in banks and grew up in a neighbourhood where people had experienced the Italian American underworld.
“I would have made a terrible undercover agent as an 18-wheeler truck driver, because I’d never driven an 18-wheeler truck. But I had done, and could do, a lot of the things Bob Musella was professed to be able to do.”
And so, with the help of informants and other undercover plants within criminal circles and families, Mazur began to sow the seeds of his very own ‘Mr Big’. And, six months after Musella had first been mentioned in the underworld, Mazur came out of the shadows to put a face to the name.
“Using that technique really catapulted me onto the underworld stage,” says Mazur, “and by that time, there were probably as much as 200 agents in the US, UK and a few other countries keeping me and my partner alive.”
Mazur’s partner, a young woman named Kathy Ertz who was undercover alongside him, posed as Musella’s fiancé and, together, they infiltrated the operations of Roberto Alcaino – a high level operative in Escobar’s cartel.
For the next two years, Mazur and Ertz partied in $1,000-per-night hotel suites, drank bottles of the world’s finest champagne, drove Rolls-Royce convertibles, and ﬂew in private jets. But, under Mazur’s Armani suits and in his Renwick briefcase, recorders whirred quietly, capturing the damning evidence of cocaine-fuelled criminal activities.
Operation C-Chase, as it came to be known, culminated in the fake wedding of Mazur and Ertz. And it was here, Mazur tells me, that his years as Bob Musella would pay off.
“The night before the wedding,” says Mazur, “there was a pretty spectacular party at this country club. And, of course, all these men and women we had got close to – corrupt bankers, money launderers and cartel members – had been invited.
“So, as the party went on, some people working alongside me approached these men and said ‘Hey, Bob doesn’t know this, but we’re having a bachelor party tonight. The limos will be here shortly.’ So, each of the bad guys that showed up were escorted into separate limos, where two or three other people posing as family and friends already were, and they went on a half hour drive to a high rise in the city.”
It was then simply a matter of arresting the men, Mazur reveals. Each of the men were escorted to different floors, and promptly arrested. The wives were informed, and the wedding was ‘called off’.
Musella was gone – until Bryan Cranston took up the mantle of the character to retell the story. The Infiltrator,based on Mazur’s own book, shows just how dangerous the special agent’s life was during this time and the struggles he encountered to keep his family, and mind, from falling apart.
“I was very grateful that Bryan spent so much time trying to get to know me,” says Mazur, “and get to know what its like to be a long term undercover agent, a husband, and a father all rolled into one. However, there were obviously a couple of instances during the film when, on set, I had to tell Bryan that I’d never say that, or do that.
“One such instance was when Bryan is talking to his boss, and she says ‘Mazur, why are you even doing this?’ and he says ‘Because I want to make this world a better place for my kids’. I told him I’ve never say anything like that, he asked what I would say, and I told him ‘because I give a shit!’”
So why has Mazur decided to make his story so public now, and doesn’t he worry that showing himself to the world will put him – or his family – in danger from the men he put away?
“Anybody who has worked long term undercover and anybody who has previously infiltrated a violent criminal organisation just needs to be mindful that they have to manage their security,” Mazur answers.
“There are so many people who were willing to make sacrifices for the general good and to do this type of work – and I’m not just talking about me. I’m talking about everybody that was involved in the operation.”
“And the fact is that these criminal organisations pose a danger, and the unfortunate, inconvenient truth is that there is a segment of the banking and business community that supports these criminal organisations by facilitating their financial needs. Sometimes we don’t realise that’s going on, but it does everyday – and people need to know that we’re working to stop it.”