BROWNSVILLE — A woman who allegedly used sexual favors to persuade a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer to let her smuggle undocumented immigrants and drugs received a five-year prison sentence Monday.
Wearing a gray jumpsuit and with wrists shackled, a mild-mannered Erika Cespedes, 28, wore her light brown hair with highlights in a loose ponytail as she appeared before U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen Monday morning in Brownsville. Hanen sentenced her to a drug rehabilitation program as well as five years in federal prison. The prison term will be followed by four years of supervised release.
Court documents show that Cespedes pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute more than 5 pounds of cocaine.
She was arrested in October 2009 during a sting operation targeting CBP officer Rudy Trace Soliz, 49, after she crossed Gateway International Bridge with 35 pounds of cocaine, court documents show.
Soliz pleaded guilty last week to charges of human smuggling and bribery. He was also arrested in October 2009 but at B&M International Bridge after he admitted to federal agents that he had allowed the trafficking of undocumented immigrants through his inspection lane, court documents show. According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Soliz — who had 11 years of service with CBP and its legacy agency — resigned the day he was arrested.
Court documents indicate Cespedes used sexual favors to persuade Soliz to let her bypass inspection through his lanes at international bridges.
The investigation into Soliz and Cespedes began when federal agents met with an informant who admitted she had crossed at least six undocumented immigrants through Soliz’s inspections lanes, court documents state. The arrest of Soliz and Cespedes came after an interagency investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Professional Responsibility, the FBI, Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, and CBP Internal Affairs.
Cespedes declined the opportunity to speak during the hearing, but her defense attorney, Nat C. Perez, stated that her continual drug use since the age of 18 led her to make poor decisions.
After sentencing Cespedes, the judge briefly spoke with her, advising her to get her life on track.
“I’m not going to lecture you on your prior conduct,” Hanen said. “But I am going to advise you to use this time to change your life. I can order you into drug rehabilitation programs and monitoring, but none of that will work unless you want it to work. It’s your decision to change your lifestyle. … The bad news, you are going to prison. The good news, you are young and can use this time to make something of your life. I urge you to use this time wisely.”
The Brownsville Herald
August 11, 2010