TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Rebecca and Michael Zoumberos had captured beauty in their wedding photography business for nearly 20 years but last March their otherwise pretty world took an ugly turn.
Michael, who had no criminal record, was put in jail after invoking his Fifth Amendment right in a federal grand jury hearing aimed at gathering information in a case involving now former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Jose Irizarry.
Irizarry, who was based in Miami, is serving a 12-year sentence for stealing $9 million meant for undercover cases. Michael’s brother, George Zoumberos has never been charged, but was one of the disgraced agent’s partners.
Michael Zoumberos said he does not know what investigators suspected about his brother’s relationship with Irizarry.
“One went rogue. They caught him. You’re not going to beat the FBI,” Zoumberos said. “But for my brother, there’s nothing.”
A Tampa federal judge’s civil contempt ruling put Zoumberos in jail after he was given immunity from prosecution but still pleaded the Fifth.
Zoumberos said he and his attorney were concerned about perjury charges if he inadvertently misspoke during testimony.
“The FBI wanted me to give information that I have no knowledge about and testify against my brother,” Zoumberos said.
Records show Zoumberos was locked up without bail for about a year without a criminal charge filed against him. He said he worried about his wife, and their livelihood during that time.
“I couldn’t see my wife I couldn’t go outside,” Zoumberos said. “I couldn’t see the sky for a year. I was inside. I thought I’m never going to see my family again. I wondered what would happened to someone without a business partner.”
Zoumberos said at one point, he suspected the jail stint was a set up to allow investigators to watch him on surveillance to gather potential evidence.
“It was crazy how the mind starts to play,” Zoumberos said. “I thought that they did this on purpose to see with the cameras who I knew and who I didn’t know.”
But the wedding photographer did not know any of the jail’s inmates that he found out included members of drug cartels and gangs.
8 On Your Side asked investigators what they were looking for in their investigation but in an email, Tampa based FBI Spokesperson Andrea Aprea said, “We will respectfully decline comment.”
The Department of Justice has yet to respond to requests for more information about the case.
Zoumberos said adjusting to life outside jail has been difficult as he moves forward with his business and personal life.
“I don’t know what’s reality and what’s not,” he said. “I never could fathom that you could be put in jail for a year. In maximum security and a phsyche ward without having a criminal charge.”