Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Corruption adds to problems on border

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 |

Even as it works to beef up security, the U.S. government is turning up hundreds of agents who may already be compromised

By STEWART M. POWELL
HOUSTON CHRONICLE

He was an ambitious drug smuggler with ties to a Mexican cartel; she a newly minted U.S. Border Patrol agent wooed into a romance with the trafficker.

"I asked her if she wanted to hang out with me, and she said yes," recalled Diego Esquivel, who, according to court testimony, hoped to start smuggling more lucrative shipments on his own. "I asked her what I could do to avoid being caught. ... She provided information."

Rookie agent Raquel "Kelly" Esquivel - no relation to Diego - is serving 15 years in a North Texas federal prison, one of many federal law enforcement personnel targeted by Mexican drug cartels in criminals' widening campaign to infiltrate or buy turncoats within the expanding ranks of 20,700 Border Patrol agents and 21,000 Customs and Border Protection officers stationed at airports, seaports and land crossings.

Investigations of border security personnel have expanded in each of the past four years, with at least 1,036 inquiries under way, including some 267 focused on suspected corruption. Additional corruption-related investigations are conducted by the FBI or internal affairs agents within the agencies.

Smugglers have become "more creative and clever in their illicit activities," said Charles Edwards, the Department of Homeland Security's acting inspector general. "They have turned to tempting DHS employees to assist in smuggling efforts for private gain."

Since 2004, 127 border security officers and support staff have been arrested, charged or convicted of corruption - including 95 so-called "mission compromising corruption" cases involving officers like Kelly Esquivel.

The former Del Rio sector agent knew Diego Esquivel from their school days. According to records, she advised him on at least three occasions in 2007 on what highway to take, what motion detectors to avoid, the timing of a local sheriff's visits to a boat ramp used for deliveries and the Border Patrol's deployment schedule. She even gave him a Border Patrol shirt and cap.

"I thought I could impress the guys in Mexico with it," the smuggler said.

'Sensitive' information

He gave the cap and coveted intelligence to his boss in Mexico before being arrested on a last drug run north. Prosecutors believed he had overseen the shipment of as much as 5 tons of marijuana during a two-year period.

The smuggler and the agent were convicted of conspiracy to possess drugs with intent to distribute more than 2,200 pounds of marijuana. The former law enforcement officer provided what prosecutors deemed "sensitive law enforcement information" to her boyfriend. He pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against her.

The case illustrates that stepped-up efforts are needed to detect corruption and infiltration after border security agents are on the job, says Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, chairman of the oversight panel within the House Committee on Homeland Security. McCaul is asking Congress' investigative Government Accountability Office to look into corrupted border security to set the stage for an inquiry by his committee.

"The cartels buy off police chiefs and elected officials in Mexico, and now they're trying to buy off our Border Patrol agents who are our first line of defense," said McCaul.

Other border protection officers in Texas and elsewhere also have faced federal corruption charges in recent years.

CBP technician Martha Alicia Garnica, 44, is serving a 20-year sentence after pleading guilty last year to charges in El Paso that she conspired to import more than 220 pounds of marijuana and smuggle undocumented aliens and offered or paid $5,500 in bribes to Customs and Border Protection officers to turn a blind eye.

Former CBP officer Alex Moses Jr., of Eagle Pass, is serving five years of probation after pleading guilty to smuggling about 6 grams of cocaine from Mexico in 2008.

And former CBP officer Sergio Garza, 36, was sentenced in Laredo in 2008 to three years in prison for aiding the smuggling of an undocumented alien into the U.S. - one of at least 10 undocumented immigrants whom he admitted allowing into the country.

"We recognize that there are bad apples in the barrel," says Alan Bersin, head of Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol. "It is our job to prevent corruption, detect it when it happens (and) prosecute it after investigating it."

Lie detector test backlog

Yet challenges remain. Only 22 percent of new hires are subjected to lie detector tests amid expanding enlistments and shortages of polygraph specialists. The agency is expanding the number of polygraphers from 35 to 52, but it will be at least 2013 before it can polygraph all new hires.

Efforts also lag in identifying compromised law enforcement officers already within the ranks. An estimated 60 percent of veteran law enforcement officers initially fail periodic lie detector tests required every five years to verify honesty and backgrounds, officials said. Nearly 15,200 officers who have failed the routine polygraphs await follow-up background checks.

Even with all the precautions, senior officials concede they can only guess at the breadth of infiltration or corruption by Mexican cartels.

"I could not give you a specific number," concedes Bersin, the top border security official. "In the course of reviewing these (employees), we do come across cases in which people reveal themselves to either have outright criminal backgrounds or links to organized criminal elements based in Mexico or gangs based in the United States, which disqualifies them."

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17 Borderland Beat Comments:

Santiago-Del Rio said...

I hope any corrupt agent caught "con las manos en las masa" are dealt with severely. These crooks with badges swore to upkeep the law. Due to greed and stupidity they lost/will lose their reputations,jobs and spend some time in prison. What do they have to look for when they get out of the joint? Here in Del Rio,a customs
agent was released from his job. He went and applied at the post office and got a job. Guess what? Some time later he was caught trying to sneak a woman from Mexico in his vehicle and wearing his postman's uniform. Is that the epitamy of stupidity? Este babozo era mejico/americano de los estado unidos. Para pendejo no se estudia.

Anonymous said...

You know how hard it is to join the U.S Border Patrol ? It is a federal government job,good pay,retirement after 20 years of service and these punks throw all that away.I even think you need a 4-year bachelors degree nowadays.I would do anything to be a border patrol agent.

Anonymous said...

1 load you can earn double your yearly salary!
in a matter of hours.

Anonymous said...

I went to school with "Agent" Esquivel.. only God knows how she landed that job to begin with.

Anonymous said...

WHY DID ALEX MOSES GET PROBATION? PERHAPS BECAUSE HIS "RELATIVE" IS A FEDERAL JUDGE?

Anonymous said...

"1 load you can earn double your yearly salary"

I doubt you will earn 200k for 1 load. There is crooked mofos in every agency in politics, in business,these shit bags are everywhere..it would be nice if we lived in a shitbag free world, but we don't and eventually they will get caught. The world is 10lb bag with 20lbs of shit in it.

Anonymous said...

I don't blame them for going corrupt. Border Patrol has shity pay and shity fucked up work schedules and transfers for Agents. Nothing wrong to make real $ MULA $

Anonymous said...

I was not referring to the 2-4 key loads,
i was referring to the truckloads they let through.

Anonymous said...

HAHA, they have to post old news to justify the claim of corruption in large scale. This is a lie and those dirty Agents were caught easily after 1 try or even before trying. Ours is the best law enforcement in the world.

Anonymous said...

Mexicos problems are also USA problems,solve or improve things south and things in the US are improved as well. We are all in this together,like it or not. The political confusion and lack of all out cooperation between US and MX is something I can not understand or appreciate. US Agents should be polygraphed annualy and take random drug tests, as they are in targeted positions.

Anonymous said...

Boder Patrol has shitty pay?! I think 100k a year is pretty damn good but that's just me. Plus all those benefits they get, can't beat that and its the govt so its a gaurenteed pay check. As far as transfers and stuff I don't know much about but those are sacrifices these men and women make and that's why they make the big bucks.

Anonymous said...

Where are you getting $100k a year? I would imagine they start at around $40k a year or less.

Anonymous said...

I don't blame them for going corrupt. Border Patrol has shity pay and shity fucked up work schedules and transfers for Agents. Nothing wrong to make real $ MULA $

Dude, shut the fuck up! That's what they signed for, not to be traffickin...if you ask me they should be hanged along with you.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprise how much influence these Mexican drug cartels have in the U.S.. Even on U.S. federal agents! Woww!!! Talk about Power.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Boder Patrol has shitty pay?! I think 100k a year is pretty damn good but that's just me. Plus all those benefits they get, can't beat that and its the govt so its a gaurenteed pay check. As far as transfers and stuff I don't know much about but those are sacrifices these men and women make and that's why they make the big bucks.
June 22, 2011 8:22 AM

Your 100k and benefits is Pesos for what these guys make. And maybe they just like to live life on the edge.. Not give a Fuck. ;)

Santiago-Del Rio said...

It helps if a person has a relative in a position that may influence a sentence. But the amount that former CBP Alex Moses of Eagle Pass, Texas had on him was minimal compared to other seizures. He pleaded guilty to smuggling 6 grams of cocaine from Mexico in 2008. He is now serving five years probation.

Anonymous said...

Just stop hiring Hispanics! Problem Solved.

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