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The Infiltrator: History vs. Hollywood

Starring Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Amy Ryan | based on the book 'The Infiltrator' by Robert Mazur

Bryan Cranston
Born: March 7, 1956
Hollywood, California, USA
Robert Mazur
Birthplace: Staten Island, New York City, New York, USA
John Leguizamo
Born: July 22, 1964
Bogotá, Colombia
Emir Abreu
Birthplace: Aguadilla, Puerto Rico
Diane Kruger
Born: July 15, 1976
Algermissen, Lower Saxony, Germany
Kathy Ertz
Birthplace: USA
Benjamin Bratt
Born: December 16, 1963
San Francisco, California, USA
Roberto Alcaino
Born: abt 1937
Birthplace: Chile
Amy Ryan
Born: May 3, 1968
Queens, New York City, New York, USA
Bonni Tischler
Born: February 18, 1945
Birthplace: New York, USA
Death: August 9, 2005
Joseph Gilgun
Born: March 9, 1984
Chorley, Lancashire, England, UK
Alexander Biscuiti
Born: July 12, 1942
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA
Death: July 13, 2014, New Port Richey, Florida, USA (cancer)
Rubén Ochandiano
Born: October 3, 1980
Madrid, Spain
Gonzalo Mora Jr.
Birthplace: Medellín, Colombia
Saïd Taghmaoui
Born: July 19, 1973
Villepinte, Seine-Saint-Denis, France
Amjad Awan
Birthplace: Pakistan
Carsten Hayes
Rudy Armbrecht
Birthplace: Colombia
Michael Paré
Born: October 9, 1958
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Barry Seal
Born: July 16, 1939
Birthplace: Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA
Death: February 19, 1986, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA (gunshot)
Art Malik
Born: November 13, 1952
Bahawalpur, Pakistan
Akbar Bilgrami
Birthplace: Islamabad, Pakistan
We managed an operation and stayed right on top of it, making sure that what we got was not just the money, but what we got was evidence that was prosecutable against individuals who we actually could arrest. -Robert Mazur, Anderson Cooper 360, 2011

Questioning the Story:

Why are there no close-up photos of the real Robert Mazur without his disguise?

While fact-checking The Infiltrator movie, we learned that as a result of his undercover work to infiltrate the money-laundering arm of the drug cartels, Robert Mazur has received death threats from the cartels, forcing him to keep his appearance concealed (CNN). The Robert Mazur photo below is from his Twitter profile and the photo at the top of the page of Mazur undercover as Bob Musella are two of the few photos of Robert Mazur. Interviews are either conducted by phone or with Mazur's face shaded out. "Unfortunately, we didn't take the cartel down through my work. We certainly gave them a big bump in the road," says Mazur. "The fact of the matter is I dealt with people who killed people every day. I mean I was in meetings when people spoke of killing the person who just walked out of the room ten minutes before." -Mazur Daytime Interview

Still fearing retaliation from the cartels, the real Robert Mazur (right) keeps his identity hidden. Bryan Cranston (left) portrays Mazur in The Infiltrator movie.

Did Robert Mazur single-handedly do as much damage to the cartels as shown in the movie?

To a large degree, yes. However, the true story behind the movie reveals that numerous other agents not shown or focused on in the film played key roles in Operation C-Chase, as Mazur pointed out in a Facebook post. "I see the caption references The Infiltrator as a story of one man, but this man owes it to the entire C-Chase team for carrying him across the goal line. Could never have made it without my brothers and sisters at U.S. Customs." As you'll discover below, Mazur's experience wasn't quite as intense as what's seen in the movie.

Is Robert Mazur's streetwise partner in the movie, Emir Abreu, based on a real person?

Yes. The Infiltrator true story reveals that John Leguizamo's character, Emir Abreu is based on Mazur's real-life partner. "Remember, the outcome of Operation C-Chase goes to the credit of the 250+ dedicated law enforcement officers around the world that contributed to the outcome. It truly was a team effort," says Mazur, "and my brother Emir Abreu was a critical member of that team" (Robert Mazur Facebook Page). Much like in the movie, Emir Abreu was a practical-joking seasoned Customs agent from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. What he lacked in formal education, he made up for it in street smarts. In his book, Mazur says that Abreu had an acute skill at reading people.

Like John Leguizamo's character in the movie, the real Emir Abreu was a street-smart Customs agent who was skilled at reading people.

Did Robert Mazur suffer a burn on his chest from wearing a wire, which gave him the option of early retirement?

No. This incident is not mentioned in Mazur's book. It was likely created for the film to show that Mazur was making a conscious decision to work undercover, despite the toll it was taking on his family. The price his wife and children paid was very real. His marriage suffered and his wife was desperate for the case to end so they could try to put their family back together.

What was Operation C-Chase?

In researching The Infiltrator true story, we learned that Operation C-Chase was an operation carried out by U.S. authorities in the mid-1980s to infiltrate a substantial money-laundering enterprise utilized by the drug cartels, including those run by Pablo Escobar and Manuel Noriega. The enterprise cleaned and moved hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The corrupt bank that was the focus of the investigation was the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), the seventh largest privately held financial institution in the world at the time, with assets totaling $20 billion. The bank, which had locations in the U.S., including Miami, was infiltrated by undercover U.S. Customs agents posing as big-time money launderers. One such agent was Robert Mazur (pictured in disguise below) -NBC News

The real Robert Mazur (right) posing in disguise in front of his private jet as Bob Musella, a wealthy businessman.

Did Robert Mazur say he had a fiancée in order to avoid sleeping with a stripper?

Yes, for the most part this is true. He told Gonzalo Mora he had a girlfriend who he intended to marry. However, Agent Kathy Ertz was not assigned the part of Mazur's girlfriend immediately after this. She was assigned the role of his girlfriend and fiancée-to-be in order to show Mora's clients that Mazur was vulnerable by way of loved ones who could be taken hostage. -The Infiltrator book

What exactly is "money laundering"?

Money laundering is the practice of moving traceable tainted cash (drug money, etc.) into a variety of accounts or businesses that appear legitimate. The illegal cash becomes so heavily mixed with lawful tender that tracing its origins becomes difficult, if not impossible. In many instances, after illegal drugs are smuggled into the country and sold, the profits are smuggled back out of the country and deposited into overseas banks, where less suspicions are raised. The Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) that was targeted by Robert Mazur and his fellow customs agents was one such bank, willingly participating in money laundering for the cartels.

The real Robert Mazur shared this photo of the inside of one of sixteen suitcases picked up from a cartel courier in Detroit. The estimated $100,000 in cash found inside the suitcase was "street wrapped" in rubber bands.

Had Agent Kathy Ertz really never been undercover before?

Yes. In The Infiltrator book, Robert Mazur states that Kathy Ertz (portrayed by Diane Kruger in the film) "hadn't done any significant undercover work." Just after the movie ends, we are told that Operation C-Chase was Kathy Ertz's one and only undercover assignment.

Is Benjamin Bratt's character, Roberto Alcaino, based on a real person?

Yes, Roberto Baez-Alcaino, portrayed by Benjamin Bratt in The Infiltrator movie, was a wealthy Chilean-born jeweler who was one of the main collectors of cash for the Medellín Cartel in the United States. Like in the movie, he had direct ties to the cartel's leader, Pablo Escobar. Alcaino worked with Bob Musella (Robert Mazur's undercover identity) to reroute drug money through seemingly reputable businesses. This included a Los Angeles construction company that was erecting a $750,000 apartment complex. Roberto Alcaino also formed a company called Antillas Promotions. The company promoted a boxing match, a venue where large sums of cash could easily be commingled with drug money. -The Washington Post

Roberto Alcaino channeled money for Pablo Escobar's Medellín Cartel in the U.S.

Was supervising agent Bonni Tischler known as "the girl with the golden gun"?

Yes. Though it's not stated in the movie, the real Bonni Tischler (portrayed by Amy Ryan in the film) earned the nickname because of the gold-plated Smith & Wesson .38 she carried. "The boys were all buying automatics, but they were too big for me," she told The Washington Post in 1987. "They kept saying my chrome-plated .357 Magnum clashed with my gold jewelry." While making arrests, drug traffickers routinely offered to buy the gold pistol off her. During our investigation into The Infiltrator true story, we learned that Bonni Tischler and Robert Mazur butted heads in real life too, even more so than what is shown in the movie.

Did Mazur really smash a waiter's face into a cake to avoid having his cover blown?

No. In The Infiltrator movie, Robert Mazur is out to dinner with his real wife, Evelyn, to celebrate their anniversary. He sees a new drug associate and worries that his undercover identity is about to be blown. He starts yelling at the waiter for bringing the wrong cake and then smashes the waiter's face down into it. His wife is shocked, as she has never seen this side of his life before. The incident is not mentioned in Mazur's book and appears to have been created for the movie to bring Evelyn (Juliet Aubrey) face-to-face with her husband's alter ego, Bob Musella.

To avoid blowing his cover, Mazur (Bryan Cranston) smashes a waiter's face into a cake in front of his wife, Evelyn, and cartel henchman Gonzalo Mora Sr. The intense scene never happened in real life.

How long was Robert Mazur undercover?

The real Robert Mazur operated undercover for five years, infiltrating money-laundering operations connected to Colombia's drug cartels ( As part of Operation C-Chase, Mazur worked undercover over a period of two years and helped to launder $34 million connected to Pablo Escobar's Medellín Cartel. Mazur made approximately 1,200 recordings of corrupt senior bank officials and high-level drug traffickers, eventually bringing them to justice (Anderson Cooper 360).

Did Mazur's briefcase with a hidden tape recorder really pop open?

Yes. While fact-checking The Infiltrator movie, we learned that Robert Mazur was opening the case to give the last of the Switzerland documents to Rudy Armbrecht, a major organizer for the Medellín Cartel. As Mazur pulled the case onto his lap, the false lid flopped open inside, revealing the recorder and a nest of wires. He quickly pushed the lid back into place, engaging the Velcro seals again before Rudy Armbrecht stood up. Like in the movie, it was a heart-pounding moment for Mazur. The actual incident happened in a hotel room, not at an outdoor table, and only Armbrecht was present. He never suspected a thing. -The Infiltrator book

This briefcase recorder is one of two that Robert Mazur used during his time undercover. The false lid and tape recorder are visible. Photo Robert Mazur Twitter

Did Mazur really go through a bizarre voodoo ritual that resulted in the man next to him being shot in the head?

No. In The Infiltrator movie, Robert Mazur (undercover as Bob Musella) attempts to win access to a henchman by going through a bizarre voodoo ritual. The ritual ends with the stranger sitting next to him being shot in the head. Bob thinks the end has possibly arrived for him too until he's suddenly told, "This was an audition. You got the part." The real Mazur does not mention a man being killed next to him in his book. However, he is introduced to a man named Fonseca, who meets him in a room that has shelves configured like an altar, lit candles, and dried blood from the sacrifice of countless animals. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Fonseca determines that Mazur (undercover as Bob Musella) is a "good and honorable man who keeps his word."

Did a businessman named Eric Wellman really help Mazur blend in undercover by installing him as an officer in companies that he owned?

Yes, Eric Wellman, portrayed by Mark Holden in The Infiltrator movie, was based on a real-life banker and businessman who helped Robert Mazur create a more convincing undercover identity by installing him as an officer in companies that he owned. He gave Mazur, who was using the alias Bob Musella, an office and assigned him a staff. On occasion, Wellman even met with drug dealers and money launderers when they visited Musella at his company's headquarters. "Eric never asked for a dime for his help," says Mazur. "[He] believed in the importance of Operation C-Chase, and he risked his life to support the undercover operation." -Robert Mazur Facebook Page

Robert Mazur's lavish undercover identity in the movie is based in fact. In addition to having a private jet, this Rolls Royce was his real-life undercover car. Photo Robert Mazur Facebook

Why did businessman Eric Wellman want to help with Operation C-Chase?

"He told me his motive," says Mazur. "'Bob, I want to do whatever I can to make this world a better place for my kids.'" The real Eric Wellman passed away in February 2016, just a few months before the release of The Infiltrator movie. He had expressed to Robert Mazur his excitement for the movie. -Robert Mazur Facebook Page

Did Robert Mazur really receive a small, bloody coffin?

No. Mazur's young daughter's hands were never covered in blood after she picked up her dad's leaking package that contained a mini coffin filled with blood. Mazur himself never received a mini coffin from members of the Medellín Cartel. The mini coffins are mentioned in Mazur's book, but only as containing threatening notes. High-up cartel member Jorge Ochoa sent one to Noriega as a threat in case any of The Ochoa Family's money was lost.

Did Roberto Alcaino escape capture while supervising the unloading of cocaine hidden in anchovy cans?

No. Unlike the movie, Roberto Baez-Alcaino was arrested in New York in September of 1988 while he supervised the unloading of 17 pounds of cocaine hidden in anchovy cans. He did not escape and later show up at the wedding. It was part of a larger shipment of over two tons of cocaine that came through Philadelphia from an Argentine anchovy company Alcaino had purchased.

These boxes of anchovy cans packed with cocaine were confiscated during Roberto Alcaino's 1988 arrest.

Did an informant named Barry Seal really get gunned down while Mazur was in his car?

No, the motorcycle drive-by in the movie never seems to have happened in real life, and especially not with Mazur riding in the passenger's seat. Barry Seal was indeed a former drug smuggler for the Medellín Cartel, who was eventually arrested and became an undercover informant. He was gunned down on February 19, 1986 after he parked his car at a Baton Rouge halfway house where a judge had ordered him to stay. Like in the movie, the Medellín Cartel was behind his murder.

Did Robert Mazur really stage his own fake wedding to capture the corrupt bankers and drug bosses?

Yes, but the wedding ceremony never happened. Robert Mazur, who was undercover as Bob Musella, worked with fellow agents to stage his own fake wedding. These agents included Kathy Ertz, who was playing the part of his fiancée (under the name Kathleen Erickson). The lavish affair was to be held in a large tent at the Innisbrook Golf Resort north of Tampa (this video offers a glimpse of the venue and the wedding tent). $20,000 in roses were paid for by one of the drug bosses. The invited guests included the crooked bankers and some of their drug boss customers who flew in from around the world.

Like Diane Kruger and Bryan Cranston's characters in the movie, the real Kathy Ertz and Robert Mazur (undercover as Kathleen Erickson and Bob Musella) staged their own fake wedding. However, it never took place in real life.

Unlike the movie, the real wedding never took place. The original plan was to make the arrests at the Sunday morning ceremony (similar to the movie). However, Robert Mazur strenuously objected, telling supervisor Bonni Tischler that it would not be fair to arrest the men in front of innocent wives and children who would be present. He also feared this would lead to retaliation against the agents and their families. Tischler held her ground, but at the urging of other agents, she eventually agreed that the arrests would be made the night before the ceremony. The men were taken in limousines to what they were told was going to be a wild bachelor party in downtown Tampa. Instead, they were delivered to heavily armed federal agents and arrested. -NBC News

How many people were arrested as a result of Operation C-Chase?

"We arrested over 100 drug traffickers and money launderers," Mazur told Anderson Cooper, "including a considerable number that reported directly to Pablo Escobar that I wound up dealing with. We seized 3,200 pounds of cocaine, about $100 million in cash and assets, about $500 million in fines, but most importantly, we got to identify an international bank, which was then the seventh largest privately held bank in the world with offices in 72 countries, and we were able to indict about a third of the senior management of that bank, arrested them, imprisoned them, put the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) out of business around the globe." Watch video of the criminals being led away in handcuffs. -Anderson Cooper 360

More than 100 money launderers and drug traffickers were arrested as a result of Operation C-Chase and Robert Mazur's undercover work. Here, a U.S. Customs agent leads one such man down a flight of steps after his arrest.

Is the real Robert Mazur happy that The Infiltrator movie was made?

Yes. Robert Mazur had worked as a consultant on the 2006 film Miami Vice starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx. Director Michael Mann told Mazur that his life story had tremendous potential to be a film. This encouraged Mazur to write The Infiltrator book as the basis for a potential movie. Once the movie went into development, Mazur was happy when he found out that Bryan Cranston would be playing him.

Robert Mazur Interviews & Related Videos

Further investigate The Infiltrator true story by watching the interviews and the Operation C-Chase news report below.

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