Monday, May 30, 2005

Corruption crosses the border with agent bribes

MCALLEN - The Border Patrol checkpoint on a remote stretch of South Texas ranchland was the ideal route for a drug trafficking ring to move tons of marijuana.

To make sure their product got through, traffickers paid $1.5 million to U.S. Border Patrol agent Juan Alfredo Alvarez, 35, to wave trucks loaded with a ton or more of marijuana through checkpoints outside Hebbronville.

Can I just say that's like letting the Fox (pun intended) guard the hen house?

Alvarez, who awaits sentencing, joined nearly a half-dozen federal agents on the Texas border who have been convicted or charged in the past few months of taking bribes from drug dealers or human smugglers. Two weeks ago, members of a U.S. Justice Department sting operation arrested 17 current or former military and law enforcement officers who allegedly were paid $220,000 by undercover agents to allow counterfeit drugs to cross check- points on the Arizona border.

The most recent Texas corruption convictions include:

•Gerardo Diaz, a 43-year-old U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspector who pleaded guilty in El Paso to accepting a $15,000 bribe to allow five kilos of cocaine to enter the Ysleta port of entry. He was sentenced in March to eight years in prison.
•In April, U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspector Fabian Solis, 41, was convicted of taking $300 for each undocumented alien he allowed to enter the country at international bridges in Roma and Rio Grande City. He is awaiting sentencing.

With Border Patrol agents like this, who needs enemies?

The reasons for corruption are varied, officials say, and include the experience of living in close-knit border communities where future drug smugglers grow up and attend school alongside future police officers.

Criminal cases against corrupt officials climbed from four in 2001 to nine cases in 2002, 15 cases in 2003, and 17 last year, he said. Shelby expects this year's prosecutions of corrupt officials will exceed last year's.

The public officials are a wide and varying group, including not only border law agents but county commissioners, school board administrators and trustees, city managers, zoning inspectors, state prosecutors, defense attorneys and constables.

This reminds me of a few years ago in San Antonio. The majority of the City Council was indicted for bribe-taking. And this was small-time, petty stuff. A $250 bribe here, a measly $3000 third-party contract there. I swear, it was like living in backwater Mexico! Those City Council members were trying to run the city of San Antonio like it was the village of Bacalar in the Yucatan! ( A small village where we lived and worked - impossible to do without petty bribery! It had a figure-head "mayor", but it was really run by the PRI "union".)

Former prosecutor Reed, who grew up in Brownsville and has handled corruption cases over the past decade, said agents frequently are corrupted by old friends.

"In so many of these cases, it seems like the law enforcement officer has a prior relationship with the trafficker," Reed said. "Or a relationship with someone who introduces them, or they have a girlfriend who introduces them."

In-bred corruption. Even the best, most straight-arrow families in Mexico have members involved in illegal activities - drug trafficking, human smuggling, poaching, etc. It was considered part of business, and not unusual. Nor was it a secret.

Corruption crosses the border with agent bribes
May 29, 2005, 10:35PM
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Hat tip: Junction Jim