According to evidence collected in a six-month investigation conducted by the Arizona Daily Star, recruiters at a Tucson, Ariz. Army station and a Marine station -- with assistance from members of an Army National Guard recruiting station -- were using their positions to transport cocaine. The participants were busted in an FBI sting operation conducted between 2002 and 2004, eventually reaching the public eye in 2005. According to testimony by a federal agent, an Army National Guard recruiter named Darius W. Perry, who had been accused of taking bribes to fix test scores, sparked the investigation. While an undercover federal plant paid Perry for a fixed test score, Perry attempted to sell cocaine to the informant. This kicked off an FBI investigation in which Perry and fellow Army National Guard recruiter Mark A. Fillman offered drug-running services to informants posing as Mexican drug lords.
Court records indicate that the recruiters used their military recruitment training to enlist participants to either help in the transportation of the cocaine, or to find others who would. One recruiter even obtained the assistance of his younger brother -- a U.S. Customs and Border Protection port inspector -- in order to wave through the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales two vehicles the border agent believed contained cocaine.
The investigation itself has caused some controversy, however. According to the Star, the FBI had pictures of the recruiters committing their crimes for months or longer before they were arrested, while they remained on the job and visited local schools to recruit future soldiers. Some kept their jobs for up to three years after first being caught running drugs, and at least two received an honorable discharge from their respective services just before being arrested.
Most of the defendants, however, have pleaded guilty, and a sentencing hearing is set for March. The defendants were charged with bribery, conspiracy and extortion -- rather than a much more severe drug trafficking charge -- and face up to five years in prison each. Those sentences could be changed by plea bargains in which the defendants agree to cooperate with prosecutors and testify against others, if necessary.
The sentences could be further reduced as accusations of sexual misconduct by undercover informants have caused problems in the case. During a court martial at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, a witness testified that informants in the case hired prostitutes to have sex with defendants after a drug run to a Las Vegas hotel. One of the informants then allegedly performed a lewd act on an unconscious prostitute's face while someone photographed the act.
Another point of contention in the probe is the recruiters being allowed to visit schools as part of their jobs during the investigation. None of the evidence against the recruiters suggested they were dealing drugs to the students they interacted with, but this is of small comfort to some. Parents have complained that their children were allowed to interact with known drug traffickers for so long. In response, recruiting officials say that some of the recruiters were allowed to keep their jobs so they would not be tipped off to the fact that they were being investigated. They added that the defendants were removed from their positions as soon as officials learned of misconduct, or as soon as the FBI authorized such removal.
The FBI, while remaining tight lipped about the still-in-progress investigation, said that there are policies in place in regards to the ethical dilemmas that can arise during an undercover investigation. A Marine recruiting official said that this was an isolated incident, and not indicative of military recruitment as a whole.