FSA Federal Operations Leader Serves the Public Good
When Pete Nuñez’s colleague Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent assigned to dismantle drug cartels in Mexico, was infamously abducted, tortured, and murdered in 1985, Nuñez’s team spent years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of California, working with DEA, the FBI, and the USMS to bring those responsible to justice. He says the Justice Department’s perseverance was the right thing to do for the safety and security of the country as well as for Camarena’s family.
“Kiki’s demise was a watershed event in the history of drug law enforcement in the U.S. involving Mexico, but those of us in San Diego all knew him personally,” said Nuñez, West Regional Director at FSA Federal.
Nuñez’s pure reverence for the law and innate sense of how to treat others earned the respect of those who crossed his path over his more than 40-year career in or supporting federal service.
“[Pete is] the finest and most respected U.S. Attorney I was fortunate to work with in my 30-year federal law enforcement career,” said Joe Cunha, a retired Special Agent from the U.S. Customs Service.
“To know Pete is to respect him,” said Nancy Worthington, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Enforcement, U.S. Department of the Treasury. “Beyond his extensive knowledge and experience, Pete is kind to those with whom he works, regardless of their titles and positions in life. Pete is simply the best.”
“His vast law enforcement experience and knowledge of virtually all the law enforcement agencies and what their jurisdiction was in enforcing the law enabled all of us to accomplish our respective objectives much more effectively,” said Brian M. Bruh, retired Director, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, U.S. Department of the Treasury. “Moreover, Pete is an honest straight shooter of a man.”
President Reagan appointed Nuñez U.S. Attorney in 1982, when the War on Drugs was in full swing as the highest priority in the U.S. Department of Justice. It took heroic efforts by his office in collaboration with the FBI and DEA to gather evidence against Camarena’s killers despite obstacles.
“Part of the difficulty was endemic corruption at every level in Mexican government,” Nuñez explained. “Eventually, dozens were convicted for various related crimes—three related to Kiki’s murder. Rafael Caro Quintero was the most notorious kingpin of the three.”
A symbol of Nuñez’s contributions to the War on Drugs hangs on his office wall—a framed photo of Quintero’s silver-plated Colt .45 encrusted with diamonds in the shape of the letter R, his first initial. The pistol was seized from Quintero’s safe deposit box in San Diego.
Since FSA Federal’s founding in 2004, Nuñez has served as West Regional Director. He oversees approximately 240 employees in fourteen western states and Guam at more than 100 work sites. The bulk of his team’s work supports the Asset Forfeiture Program through law enforcement agencies in the U.S. Department of Justice.
“While I was U.S. Attorney, I started a designated asset forfeiture unit with three Assistant U.S Attorneys in the Criminal Division, which may have been the first dedicated asset forfeiture unit in any U.S. Attorney Office in the country. It was certainly among the first,” Nuñez said in retrospect.
After George H. W. Bush took office, the President appointed Nuñez Assistant Secretary for Enforcement at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, a role he held for 3 years. At that time, and prior to 9/11, Treasury’s law enforcement resources were equal or greater than those in the Department of Justice, including Customs, Secret Service, ATF, and the Criminal Investigative Division of IRS.
Nuñez influenced world law enforcement and financial leaders to confront their complicity with money laundering within their countries and take corrective action. Throughout the 1990s, he was front and center in U.S. efforts to crack down on money laundering on a global scale, participating in quarterly G7 summits and other international meetings. After leaving Treasury in 1993, Nuñez worked on a variety of projects to clean up corruption and illicit activity in 24 countries including Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Israel, China, and India.
Nuñez was at Treasury when the Treasury Asset Forfeiture Fund was created, paving the way for his current role at FSA. He held a concurrent position from 1997 through 2012 as lecturer at the University of San Diego, specializing in transnational crime and terrorism, immigration policy, and criminal justice.
Charles Brisbin, retired Director of the Office of Law Enforcement, U.S. Department of the Treasury, expressed his admiration for Nuñez. “In my 30-year law enforcement career, I met and worked with thousands of excellent dedicated professionals. There is not one I respected more than I do Pete Nuñez.”