Authorities say the officer accepted $52,000 in bribes in a sting in exchange for allowing what he believed were drug-laden cars to pass through his lane without inspection.
Reporting from Calexico, Calif. — An inspector for U.S. Customs and Border Protection was charged Friday with conspiring to smuggle cocaine and methamphetamine through his inspection lane at the California- Mexico border crossing in Calexico, federal authorities said.
The officer, Oscar Osbaldo Ortiz-Martinez, a two-year veteran, allegedly accepted $52,000 in bribes from informants and federal undercover agents posing as drug traffickers in exchange for allowing what he believed were drug-laden cars to pass through his lane without inspection.
Ortiz-Martinez was arrested Thursday while receiving a bribe of $30,000 in a supermarket parking lot in El Centro, Calif. Ortiz-Martinez, 30, and an alleged accomplice, Victor Manuel Silva, 30, are scheduled for a detention hearing Tuesday.
The case is the latest in a string of corruption investigations targeting U.S. Border Patrol agents and customs inspectors along the U.S.-Mexico border. Federal authorities are concerned that Mexican trafficking groups are ramping up their efforts to infiltrate border agencies by paying huge bribes.
The investigation against Ortiz-Martinez and Silva was triggered in August 2009. Authorities received a tip from an informant who said Silva had approached him about a smuggling scheme, saying he knew a customs inspector, Ortiz-Martinez, who would let drugs through for a fee of $120 per kilo.
Silva, believing that the informant had ties to drug trafficking groups, told him that with a $1,000 advance payment, he "had the green light to cross what you want," according to the criminal complaint.
Ortiz-Martinez allegedly coordinated the two smuggling attempts carefully, providing his work schedule to the informant so he could know in which lane he was working. When the informant arrived at his inspection booth on the first attempt in June, Ortiz-Martinez allegedly scanned his passport, grinned, and let him through.
Ortiz-Martinez and Silva had apparently known each other for years. Silva said he and Ortiz had once worked together as security guards at an immigration detention facility for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in El Centro.
The case was investigated by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General and ICE. Federal prosecutors said they will request at the hearing Tuesday that no bail be granted.
September 24, 2010
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