Tampa-based crime story to hit big screen
TAMPA - As a federal agent, Bob Mazur went undercover and risked his life to play the role of a mob-connected money man to help bring down an international bank in one of the biggest money laundering investigations in U.S. history. He wrote a book about the experience and is working with a Hollywood director to bring the story to the big screen. He's not yet sure who will play him, but he says the idea is surreal. Mostly, though, Mazur hopes the movie opens people's eyes to the role major banks play in money laundering and terrorism. "My passion is this issue and in my view, I'm kind of a vehicle through which the story can be honestly told because I saw it firsthand," said Mazur, a retired U.S. Customs agent and author of "The Infiltrator," the behind-the-scenes story of an investigation that climaxed with the arrest of smugglers and bankers at a staged wedding in Tampa in the late 1980s.The two-year investigation helped bring down a major international financial institution, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, or BCCI. The bank helped Mazur — posing as Tampa-based businessman Bob Musella — launder tens of millions of dollars for the Medellin cartel. Its officers even provided guidance on how to make drug money look legitimate. Now Mazur, who owns a private investigation agency, is working with Brad Furman, who directed the legal thriller "The Lincoln Lawyer" with Matthew McConaughey and currently is filming "Runner, Runner," a film about offshore gambling starring Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck. "To me, Bob's a heroic figure, and I think his story is absolutely fascinating, inspiring and a wonderful story that many people don't know and should be told," said Furman, who described Mazur as "a real class act with a tremendous ethical and moral fiber." The admiration is mutual. Mazur said Furman is "a brilliant guy, and I think he's the best guy I could ever partner with because he's kind of like me; he's a maverick of his industry." Making this movie, Furman said, "would be a real dream come true." Mazur said Furman enlisted the production company George Films, based in the United Kingdom. Mazur said he is an executive producer of "The Infiltrator" and is acting as a technical consultant on "Runner, Runner." Furman said Mazur has been "incredibly invaluable in elevating my point of view and my understanding of the world in 'Runner, Runner.' … We've really made the script better as a result of Bob." Mazur said he expects production to start on "The Infiltrator" sometime next year at the earliest. Said Furman, "I think it's near to impossible to try to predict what happens and when things happen in Hollywood. I think it's a process of getting things right artistically and fiscally." Ideas have been tossed around over dinner, but Mazur said no actor has been identified to play him. Mazur said he hopes it's someone famous. "That would mean that there would be a serious commitment of resources to the movie," he said. Furman doesn't expect any trouble casting a big name in the role. "Honestly, I think people are going to be begging us to be in the movie because it's such a special story, so it's not something right now that I really worry about," he said. Mazur plans to spend a lot of time with whomever it is. "My expectation is whoever gets cast as me, I'm going to be tied to their hip," Mazur said. "Brad has told me he wants me to be on set next to him for every shoot." He said he wants the actor to understand the dual role he had to play for two years. "I had to take my brain, my Bob Mazur brain, and I had to put it in a box in my head," he said. "I had to shut that. I had to be mindful of who I really was. But I couldn't let that brain engage and think like Bob Mazur because Bob Mazur and Bob Musella are very different people." While he was immersed in that world, Mazur couldn't even think about the most important things in his life: his wife and children. "I had to shut that down," he said. "That's not an easy thing for a person to do. At the same time, you can't completely shut that person down because you always have to remember who you are and why you're there, but you can't let your natural you out so much that it begins to interfere with how you're acting." So while he acted like a criminal and moved in circles with criminals, he secretly took notes, figured out how to get evidence, hid copies of surveillance tapes, and lost sleep so he could attend meetings with men "who literally decided who should live or die." Most of all, Mazur wants to call attention to the vast worldwide network of money laundering, a subject he writes about and lectures on. "Sometimes I feel like I'm Don Quixote here, and why doesn't the world recognize that we've got $2.1 trillion in illegal funds generated around the world every year?" he said. Authorities think $400 billion to $500 billion of that amount are proceeds from illegal drug trafficking. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates it seizes just $1 billion in assets from all criminals each year. "So that amounts to one quarter of 1 percent of the revenue generated around the world for these very powerful criminal organizations," Mazur said. These powerful drug cartels "corrupt law enforcement, military, judicial, legislative systems. They do that to create safe havens from which they work. "And when we look at cases that have come out in the last few years, we have a clearly documented relationship between terrorist organizations and Colombian and Mexican drug trafficking organizations." The United States, Mazur said, is the top consumer of illegal drugs in the world. "We create the revenue that moves this engine and funds terrorist activity around the world." At the same time, he said, the government just fines banks caught laundering money, allowing individuals to escape criminal responsibility. Furman says telling Mazur's complex and layered tale "show a world…that we've never seen."
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