Mexican drug cartels and smuggling organizations use the old Soviet principles, summarized by the cold war acronym MICE (Money, Ideology, Compromise and Ego) in their approach to recruiting border agents. Oftentimes, the smugglers don’t have to swim, run or climb a fence. All they need is a corrupt border official on the take – and the numbers of crooked law enforcement officials are simply staggering.
On August 12, 2010 Congress passed the Border Security Appropriations Bill, providing $196 million for the Department of Justice to surge federal law enforcement efforts in high crime areas in the Southwest Border region.
Devoting more funds to enforcement efforts is not enough to curtail internal corruption that permeates ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), Border Patrol and CBP (Customs and Border Protection). The changes must come from within.
The first priority should be the change in the hiring policies of the agencies within the Department of Homeland Security. They rightfully devote enormous time and manpower investigating job applicants with family ties and connections to foreign countries. That is, all countries except for Mexico – the primary source for the flood of illegal aliens, smuggled drugs and weapons into the United States. This counter-intuitive approach allows individuals with ties to Mexican cartels and smuggling organizations to be hired to protect our borders – the proverbial fox in the henhouse. In at least one instance, an illegal alien was hired to serve as the Border Patrol agent, in turn smuggling hundreds of other illegals into the U.S.
“Plata y sexo”
While money continues to be the most commonly-used incentive, the runner-up is sex, also referred to as setting a “honey trap.” The common expression used by smugglers is “plata o sexo” – bribe or sex. In some cases, it’s both. Sex can be used to entice or to blackmail a law enforcement official into performing required tasks. Once caught, corrupt border officials face very light prison sentences (or mere probation). Therefore, the temptation of sex and money is not adequately counteracted by the threat of punishment. Here are some disturbing examples:
On August 4, 2010, Rudy Trace Soliz III, 44, pleaded guilty to alien smuggling and bribery, admitting that while serving as a CBP Officer with the Department of Homeland Security he knowingly allowed his 28-year-old lover Erika Cespedes to bring in aliens and merchandise through his vehicle inspection lane in return for sexual favors. Soliz is scheduled to be sentenced on November 8, 2010 and is currently free on bond.
Soliz is likely to receive a lighter sentence than his co-conspirator Erika Cespedes, who was sentenced to 5 years in prison on August 11, 2010.
Richard Elizalda, a 10-year veteran of U.S. Customs and Border Protection was convicted of accepting bribes in exchange for allowing illegal aliens to enter the United States. Working at the world’s busiest border crossing, the San Ysidro Port of Entry, Elizalda sent text messages to smugglers, informing them which inspection lane to go to. Then he simply waved them in, sending dozens of illegal aliens into our country without proper documentation.
Elizalda was involved in a sexual relationship with the principal smuggler, Raquel Arin. Elizalda was driving luxury cars, giving his lover and co-conspirator expensive jewelry, going on extravagant trips and otherwise burning through a lot of money. A search of Elizalda’s house turned up approximately $30,000 in cash. For his crimes, Richard Elizalda was sentenced to serve less than 6 years in prison.
Illegal alien, smuggler hired by Border Patrol
In 2005, Border Patrol agent Oscar Antonio Ortiz pleaded guilty to conspiring to smuggle over 100 people into the country. Surprise-surprise – this Border Patrol agent was an illegal alien himself. He used a counterfeit U.S. birth certificate to get hired as a Border Patrol agent. Not as surprising was a lax sentence of only 5 years in prison.
Miguel Angel Avina, a trainee at the Border Patrol academy, was arrested on fraud and conspiracy charges related to his participation in a ring that smuggled at least 110 weapons.
Port Director kept on payroll, receives probation for federal crimes
On October 31, 2005, a high-ranking Customs official was sentenced for her felony crimes. Daphiney Caganap served as the head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) intelligence unit and anti-smuggling operations at the San Ysidro Port of Entry (the largest and busiest land border country in the United States and in the world). She received bribes in exchange for covering up an illegal alien and drug smuggling operation, allowing it to continue for years. When questioned by the FBI, Caganap lied under oath.
Even though the government was well aware of Caganap’s bribery by 2001, she continued to receive promotions and was appointed as the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Port Director at the Metro Detroit Airport. After being indicted, Daphiney Caganap was placed on administrative leave (which means that she continued to receive her exorbitant salary, courtesy of American taxpayers).
One of the 8 co-conspirators working with Caganap included the head of a smuggling ring. Corrupt inspectors, whose activities were covered-up by Caganap, were making $15,000 to $20,000 a week from smugglers for allowing illegal aliens and hundreds of pounds of marijuana to enter the U.S.
Caganap was indicted for all of the above-mentioned crimes and was facing 36 years in prison. She was sentenced to mere probation. Caganap wasn’t ordered to return any of the bribes she received in the commission of her crimes.
A fish rots from the head down
Historically, Customs has always been the most corrupt federal agency. This dubious lead continues to be maintained through the stream of convictions of Customs agents, officers and even the agency’s Chief Counsel.
On April 21, 2010, the assistant chief counsel for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Constantine Peter Kallas was found guilty of conspiracy, 6 counts of bribery, 2 counts of obstruction of justice, 7 counts of fraud and misuse of entry documents, 3 counts of aggravated identity theft, 9 counts of making false statements to the Department of Labor, 4 counts of making false statements to obtain federal employee compensation and 4 counts of tax evasion. His wife, Maria, was also arrested and pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Kallas set up two phantom companies (Botno, Inc. and Mississippi Valley Consulting, Inc) and filed false employment petitions with the Department of Labor and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for dozens of illegal immigrants in exchange for hefty bribes.
Kallas’ attorney, H. Dean Steward of San Clemente, said that his client did favors for immigrants “out of the kindness of his heart” and was set up by “opportunistic” aliens. In a search at Kallas’ Alta Loma home, agents reportedly found a hidden floor safe with more than $177,000 in cash and 24 official immigration files. Agents also found a ledger with the names of more than 60 immigrants and amounts of money they had paid. Bank accounts showed that in addition to Kallas’ salary, nearly $1 million had been deposited in the couple’s accounts since 2000.
In one instance, Constantine Kallas took a $7,000 bribe from his housekeeper and used his position to obtain a dismissal of a smuggling case against her daughter. Kallas appeared in Immigration Court on behalf of the federal government and succeeded in getting the smuggling case dropped.
Even after he was indicted on 75counts and convicted of three dozen corruption-related charges, Kallas was not fired by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He remained on “unpaid leave” since January 2007. Only after his conviction ICE announced that they were “moving forward” with dismissing Kallas from government service. Paul Layman, associate special agent in charge for the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) in Los Angeles said, “ICE holds its employees to the highest standards of professional and personal integrity.” What does one have to do to get fired from ICE?
The sentencing was originally scheduled for August 9, 2010, but has now been postponed to November 8, 2010. The judge ordered a mental health evaluation for Kallas, since he claims to suffer from depression and a gambling addiction. Incidentally, Kallas and his wife were arrested while taking their last bribe at the San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino.
Then there is former Assistant Director of the Detroit office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Roy M. Bailey. In September of 2008, he pleaded guilty and was convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to defraud the United States and misprision of felony. The offenses took place between 2000 and 2004, when Bailey held the position of INS District Director and, thereafter, Field Office Director for the Department of Homeland Security—Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detention and Removal Operations division. In those positions, Roy Bailey was responsible for the detention of all immigration aliens in that district, pending the completion of their deportation proceedings.
Bailey admitted accepting cash, casino chips, construction services, free meals and other things of value from numerous aliens seeking immigration benefits for themselves, their relatives and others. In return, Bailey allowed selected detainees to be released from INS/ICE custody, to avoid deportation from the United States and to fraudulently obtain immigration benefits to which they were not entitled. In addition, Bailey covered up the crimes of one of his employees, former INS/ICE Detention Officer Patrick Wynne, who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from immigration detainees over the 4-year time period.
Bailey’s pitifully low sentence will hardly serve as a deterrent to any who would misuse public power for personal gain. He was sentenced to 37 months imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine of $30,000 for receiving bribes and defrauding the United States. Even after his indictment, Bailey was placed on paid administrative leave, continuing to receive the salary of $139,900 per year. After 4 years of receiving income without doing any work (a multi-annual paid vacation, courtesy of American taxpayers), he was granted a $100,000 pension and full healthcare for life.
CBP spokesman and his brother indicted for alien smuggling
Two corrupt Border Patrol agents, brothers Raul and Fidel Villarreal, have disappeared after being tipped off about an investigation against them. They were later found and extradited back to the U.S. from Mexico. On October 20, 2008, indictments against them were unsealed, charging them with smuggling conspiracy, money laundering and witness tampering. Villareal brothers were charged with allowing illegal aliens from Brazil and Mexico to be smuggled into the U.S., allegedly using Border Patrol vehicles to do so. On March 13, 2009, they pleaded “not guilty” to all charges.
Ironically, Raul Villarreal was the spokesman for the Border Patrol’s San Diego sector. He made frequent appearances on Spanish-language television newscasts and played the part of a cold-hearted Mexican smuggler in a public service announcement. Fidel Villarreal, 40, was a supervisory Border Patrol agent who worked in the San Diego area.
Big crimes, small sentences
Instead of serving as a deterrent, light sentences do nothing to dissuade the downfall from law enforcement to law breakers. Here are a few additional examples of serious crimes, followed by disproportionately puny sentences:
Richard Cramer, high-ranking ICE agent, was charged with obstruction of justice and multiple counts of drug smuggling. Cramer is one of the highest-ranking border officials charged in border corruption cases. He once served as the head of ICE in Nogales, worked as an Internal Affairs agent and served as the highly coveted post of Mexican attaché. In that position Cramer started to work with smugglers.
Cramer was providing drug traffickers with confidential law-enforcement background checks that helped them to avoid capture. Cramer was also charged with investing up to $25,000 of his own money in a shipment of 300 kilograms of cocaine from Panama to Spain through the U.S., but the prosecutors dropped those charges in exchange for a guilty plea. Cramer was facing 20 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Paul Huck said the case was mitigated by Cramer’s “unblemished” military and law-enforcement career and sentenced him to only 2 years in prison.
Jose Carmelo Magana, 46, a Customs and Border Protection officer at the San Luis, Arizona border crossing was sentenced on January 21, 2010 by U.S. District Judge James A. Teilborg. He was facing a possible sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000.00 dollar fine. After pleading guilty to alien smuggling and acceptance of a bribe by a public official, Magana was ordered to pay a $4,000.00 dollar fine and sentenced to the lowest sentence allowed by law – 37 months in prison.
Jose Olivas Jr., a former Border Patrol agent, helped smuggle more than 100 people into the United States and shared internal documents with leaders of the smuggling ring. Olivas worked as a Border Patrol agent for 10 years and served as a liaison between the agency and the United States Attorney’s office. For his crimes, Olivas was sentenced to only 3 years in prison.
Jose Ramiro Arredondo, a former Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer, pleaded guilty to bringing in undocumented aliens for private financial gain. For at least two years, Arredondo has been personally escorting undocumented aliens into the pedestrian walkway of the port of entry, bypassing primary immigration inspection and allowing them to enter the U.S. illegally. He was sentenced to 4 years and 4 months in prison.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer with 16 years of experience, Michael Gilliland was knowingly allowing illegal aliens across the border, earning the equivalent of his annual salary in a day. For example, depending on the size of the vehicle, you could have 10 – 12 people in the car, 4 or more smugglers’ vehicles coming across per each shift – 48 aliens at $1,000 a head would earn Gilliland over $48,000 in one day. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison.
Yet another case of border corruption was exposed with the arrest of Luis Francisco Alarid, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer. Alarid, who worked at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy to smuggle illegal aliens and more than 260 kilograms of marijuana into the United States. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison.
Make money, don’t make waves
U.S. Customs Inspector Guy Henry Kmett is another clear example of what’s wrong with the system. His case was described as a textbook example of smuggling as organized crime. Authorities said that Kmett spent about $100,000 in cash in one year on a swimming pool, computers, televisions and other items. The alleged renegade inspector had been arrested and fired in 1989 for his participation in smuggling illegals across the border. He was also charged with stealing confiscated steroids and selling them.
If you don’t know the outcome of this case, have a seat before you read the rest of this paragraph. Guy Henry Kmett was arrested and fired, but he won reinstatement on appeal. This outcome is especially outrageous, since whistleblowers who expose such corruption routinely lose their jobs and have less than 2% chance of winning on appeal. Apparently, criminals are more welcome in federal service than those who expose their crimes.
Historically, American authorities have been more interested in hiding the evidence of border corruption, rather than exposing and curtailing it. For example, on August 21, 1996, The Border Corruption Task Force closed its investigation and claimed that they found no credible evidence of widespread corruption (Associated Press, “Customs Corruption Probe Closed,” Washington Post, August 23, 1996, p. A19). U.S. Attorney Alan Bersin said, “We are satisfied there has been a complete, fair and impartial review of the allegations by seasoned professionals.”
The allegations centered on an October 3, 1990 incident in which a supervisor attempted to let a Mexican gas tanker, packed with 8,000 pounds of cocaine, cross the border into the U.S. After inspectors challenged the supervisor’s decision, the tanker was stopped. The tanker’s driver escaped to Mexico and was later found dead in the trunk of a car.
President of the National Border Patrol Council, T.J. Bonner, said that contrary to the official statistics, corruption is increasing among the rank and file, but the agency does not welcome whistleblowers. He said, “People are told to shut up and not make waves.” Bonner continued to say, “Morale is the lowest I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been around for 28 years.” While the manpower and resources of Internal Affairs/Office of Professional Responsibility are notoriously being abused to conduct retaliatory investigations against whistleblowers, the agency is a breeding ground for waste, fraud and corruption.
The beat goes on
FBI is currently handling more than 400 public corruption cases in the Southwest region alone. They have 12 border corruption task forces in that area, which are comprised of many state and local law enforcement agencies. In the fiscal year 2009, there have been more than 100 arrests and prosecutions in about 130 state and federal cases related to border corruption.
Since 2004, 84 officers have been arrested and 62 were convicted, says James Tomsheck, assistant commissioner for internal affairs at CBP, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Tomsheck says, “We’re deeply concerned. The numbers are disturbing.”
An internal CBP website features a page devoted to rogue agents and officers convicted of corruption-related charges. This information should be readily available to all concerned citizens, as greater openness would lead to increased government accountability.
Instead of throwing more money and manpower at this problem, the government should re-examine the Department of Homeland Security’s questionable hiring methods, ensure that corruption is deterred by appropriate sentences and reward (not punish) whistleblowers who point out corruption, fraud and abuse. Then and only then will the U.S. finally be able to take back the control of its own borders.