Border corruption on the U.S. sidePosted: Updated:
A McAllen Border Patrol agent is the latest to plead guilty to bribery charges for accepting cash from drug traffickers to "escort" drug loads. This type of corruption is part of a growing concern as cartels look for ways to get around tighter border security.
It didn't cost much in this case. According to the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District 34 year old Salomon Ruiz accepted $14,000 dollars in bribes to escort 25 kilos of cocaine.
And prosecutors say Ruiz also helped his cousin, former Border Patrol agent Leonel Morales, who escorted a 20-kilogram load of cocaine in exchange for $9,000 in bribes.
Morales, pleaded guilty to bribery charges in a companion case in Laredo. The pair are part of a growing number of cases involving official corruption within law enforcement forces on the border -- on the U.S. side.
"Border Patrol agents are entrusted with tremendous authority and the enormous responsibility of securing our nation's borders, making it a world-class law enforcement agency," said Ronald D. Vitiello, Chief Patrol Agent, Rio Grande Valley Sector. "Border Patrol agents who violate the trust of the citizens they swore to protect will be held accountable."
It's not clear if there's more corruption or more success weeding out bad agents. The corruption cases span the border from the Rio Grande Valley to San Diego and nearly all points in between. The massive build up of the Border Patrol certainly means there are more opportunities for traffickers to target agents. Under a mandate by former President Bush 6000 agents have been hired over the past couple of years.
"The cartels in Mexico will actually target people and recruit them and encourage them to apply," explained Jay Abbott, FBI Special Agent in Charge in El Paso. I interviewed Mr. Abbott last fall for a story about this trend. And the risk of infiltration extends beyond the Border Patrol to include Customs and Border Protection officers entrusted with securing our international bridges.
To be sure the vast majority of Border Patrol agents and CPB officers are honest but those charged with investigating the corruption cases warn even a few dirty agents can do a lot of damage.