The funds were part of an FBI sting aimed at an alleged extortion plot by van der Sloot, and many media outlets have slammed the bureau for reputedly botching that sting. "FBI cash funded Sloot 'slay' trip: Blunder let Natalee creep slip free after 25G payoff meant for mom-extort bust," reads a New York Post headline today.
But at least one expert says that the reality of the situation is far less scandalous, and that the media is overreacting. "I think what happens," says Harold Copus, head of Copus Security Consultants in Atlanta, "is people get to the stage where they run around in circles, scream and shout. And they don't always know what is going on."
The FBI launched its sting several weeks ago, after van der Sloot allegedly offered to provide the mother of missing teen Natalee Holloway with information about her daughter's disappearance in exchange for $250,000.
Natalee Holloway, the 18-year-old Alabama woman who vanished on a trip to Aruba in 2005, was last seen leaving a nightclub with van der Sloot. Her body has never been found.
After van der Sloot allegedly contacted the missing girl's mother, Beth Holloway, she notified the FBI, which set its sting in motion.
On May 10, an intermediary reportedly acting under the FBI's direction met with van der Sloot at a hotel in Aruba and allegedly gave him $10,000 in cash. An additional $15,000 was wired to van der Sloot via a financial institution in the Netherlands, U.S. authorities say.
Roughly three days later, van der Sloot traveled to Peru to play in a poker tournament. It was there, on June 2, that Stephany Flores, 21, was found dead in van der Sloot's hotel room in Lima, setting off a police manhunt that ended with his arrest in Chile on June 3.
Since the FBI sting was revealed last week, many have been outspokenly critical of the bureau for not taking van der Sloot into custody immediately after the funds were exchanged.
"If I was involved with that investigation and controlled it, he would have been locked up in a room after he made the extortion and statements," private investigator and security expert Bo Dietl said during an appearance on Greta Van Susteren's Fox News show "On the Record." "He also took the money; you had the crime committed there. Why give him any more access?"
Van Susteren also questioned why the FBI "did not act" when the crime was "delivered" to them.
"I don't know why they didn't arrest him, and I'm sure the FBI feels horrible about what happened," she told "Good Morning America" today.
The FBI issued a statement today offering "heartfelt sympathy to the Flores family," but also refuting critics' charges that it could have prevented Flores' death.
"The Birmingham investigation was not related in any way to the murder in Peru ... [and] was not sufficiently developed to bring charges prior to the time van der Sloot left Aruba," the FBI stated. "This is not due to any fault on the part of the FBI or the U.S. Attorney's Office, where agents and prosecutors were working as hard as possible to bring the case to fruition when they learned of the murder."
And as Copus sees it, the bureau's hands were tied.
"The FBI is as much a bureaucratic operation as anything," said Copus, himself a former FBI agent. "For the sting to even occur, they had to run it by dozens of officials in the U.S. and Aruba. Then, once it occurred ... they couldn't just place him in cuffs. ... They had to take the evidence back to the U.S., run it through all the channels, present it to the U.S. Attorney's Office, [which then has] to say, 'You know guys, that is great -- we are going to take it to a grand jury, and we are going to get an indictment.' "
And after an indictment was finally secured, Copus said, officials would have had to take it to Aruba before arresting van der Sloot and extraditing him to the U.S.
Copus also said there was nothing U.S. authorities could have done to prevent van der Sloot from boarding a plane to Peru.
"The only thing they could have done would have been to get permission from the Arubans to give up his airline information, but the FBI did not have the authority to trail him there," he said. "They would have needed to get permission from the Peruvian government and convince them that they needed to expend manpower to put him under surveillance."
Copus said he realizes the funds van der Sloot received may have unwittingly led to the Peruvian woman's death, but it could not have been foreseen or prevented.
"It's how the chips fall," Copus said. "It is the way things are set up to protect your rights in this great country we live in, and that means even the rights of Joran van der Sloot. ... There was a procedure they had to follow, and I guarantee you it was followed to the letter. And it wasn't because it was van der Sloot. It would have been the same with you, me and everyone else."