For five years in the 1980s, Robert Mazur lived a life of high-stakes intrigue and danger as a federal undercover agent based in Tampa.
As a U.S. Customs special agent, Mazur’s mission was to bring down Pablo Escobar, the world’s then most notorious Columbian drug lord, and his Medellin Cartel.
Undercover, Mazur portrayed a jet-setting financial adviser to his infamous clients. At home in Tampa he was a family man, who desperately fought to keep both worlds apart.
Mazur’s recount of his daring missions was published in his autobiography titled “The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel.” In early 2015, international filmmakers will come to Tampa to begin production of a feature film based on Mazur’s book, starring Emmy Award-winning Actor Bryan Cranston.
“I’m really fortunate; the cast couldn’t be better,” Mazur says. “Cranston is an actor who can stretch the character, grow the character and capture the audience.
Marisa Tomei and John Leguizamo also are award-winning actors slated to be in the cast.
Bringing it home
The selection of Tampa as a principal filming location is yet another sign of the influence Hillsborough County and the Tampa Bay area is gaining in the super competitive feature filmmaking industry.
“This is a big win for Hillsborough County, and that validates the time and resources we’ve dedicated to rebuilding our local film industry,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan says. “By attracting a big budget motion picture like “The Infiltrator,” we’re proving that we can, and will compete for projects that were regularly going to Miami, Orlando or elsewhere in Florida.”
The project first came to the attention of the local film commission in the summer of 2013.
It was Dale Gordon
’s first week on the job as Executive Director of the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission
, when she received an e-mail from Mazur, inviting her to attend his book lecture at the University of South Florida.
“He said he had written a book, and … there were some reputable filmmakers interested in the project,” Gordon says.
Gordon attended the lecture and was blown away.
“It is one of the most interesting stories and perspectives I ever heard,” she says.
Mazur arranged for Gordon to speak with his production partners, and the filmmakers planned a trip to Tampa in February to tour the area.
“This is definitely a community initiative,’’ says Gordon. “We wanted to make sure that the story is told here in Tampa.”
In March, the Hillsborough County Commission approved a local incentive package of $250,000 to help attract the filmmakers to the county.
Gordon says the production company, Good Films, based in Great Britain, originally wanted to do much of the production in Hillsborough County, but nixed the idea when it was unable to get $4.3 million in pre-approved tax credits through the State of Florida Entertainment Incentive Program to offset the cost of filming.
As a result, “much of (“The Infiltrator”
) will be filmed in England, where they are offering 25 cents on a dollar,” Gordon says.
Representatives of Good Films
says they are thrilled to have Cranston on board.
“Brad (Furman) and I have invested a great deal of time ensuring that the casting on this film is absolutely perfect and we feel we’ve done just that,” Good Films founder Miriam Segal said in a news release. “’The Infiltrator’ is a film that demands a dynamic and complex leading man and we could not be more excited to have him on board.”
Growing financial support in Florida
When state legislators failed to fund the program during the 2014 legislative session, local lawmakers took steps to preserve the deal by developing an unprecedented package of support that included performance-based incentives and the creation of a minimum number of hotel room nights and jobs.
The city of Tampa will cover the costs of off-duty patrol and street closures. Port Tampa Bay will provide the production with office space, and the University of Tampa’s film production program will partner with the producers to place students in hands-on support roles.
Mazur, who is president of Chase and Associates
, a Tampa investigative agency that services law firms and corporations throughout the country, will serve as an executive producer and consultant on the film production.
He retired as a federal agent in 1991 after a 27-year career doing forensics, criminal investigations, customs and undercover work.
Like Mazur’s book, the movie will chronicle how the former undercover agent brought down the world’s seventh largest privately held bank, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, or BCCI, for laundering cartel drug fortunes, Mazur says.
Beginning the federal investigation
Living in Tampa played a major role in Mazur’s plans. In 1987 he was driving past the former BCCI branch at the intersection of Kennedy Boulevard and Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa when Mazur devised the scheme to bring down the Medellin Cartel.
Mazur walked into the bank, opened an account as the manager of financial affairs for Colombian clients who did business in the United States and wanted to help them get the money back to other countries without those governments knowing about it, he says. The plan worked.
The federal investigation led to the indictment of 85 individuals. Top players in the Colombian mafia and their bankers were arrested in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties when they came to Tampa to attend a staged wedding between Bob Musella, Mazur’s undercover alias, and another federal agent pretending to be the bride-to-be.
“Operation C-CHASE was the most successful undercover operation in the history of U.S. law enforcement,” Mazur says.
Adapted for the screen by Ellen Brown Furman, “The Infiltrator” will tell the story of how Mazur used his skills to help bring down the drug cartel leaders, former Panamanian military dictator and drug trafficker Manuel Noriega, and unscrupulous bankers who manipulated the international banking system to benefit the drug lords.
Acclaimed filmmaker Brad Furman, who directed “The Lincoln Lawyer,” will also direct “The infiltrator.” The movie will be filmed on location in Tampa, London and Paris.
Gordon says the local film commission has “set up a platform to have films of this magnitude.”
Two more film projects for Hillsborough County are in the works, says Gordon.
“We know that if they enjoy the experience, they will want to come back,” Gordon says.