JUNE 10, 2008
For the second time in a few weeks a federal agent in charge of protecting the nation’s vulnerable southern border has been charged with helping illegal immigrants and drugs enter the United States.
The U.S. Border Patrol agent in Texas, Reynaldo Zuniga, was charged this week with conspiracy to distribute cocaine for helping two illegal Mexican men smuggle 11 bricks of the potent drug into the country. Authorities say Zuniga was paid to pick up one of the men along the Rio Grande in his government vehicle then drive him to an Hidalgo fast-food eatery just past the customs checkpoints.
From there a relative of the smuggler’s drove him to a store parking lot in Pharr, a small city located in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas only minutes from the Mexican border. The corrupt Border Patrol agent, a seven-year veteran, told investigators that he got $1,200 from the smugglers to sneak them and their drug cargo into the U.S. The cash was recovered in the agent’s shirt pocket when he was arrested.
Investigators say this was not the first time Zuniga helped illegal immigrants smuggle drugs into the country. They believe the agent has made six similar smuggling trips in the last few months alone. If convicted he could face up to life in prison and a $4 million fine.
Just a few weeks ago a separate Texas Border Patrol agent, Ramiro Flores, was arrested for using his government badge to bypass checkpoints at McAllen-Miller International Airport, allowing him to smuggle a bag filled with cocaine. This type of corruption among federal officers guarding the U.S.-Mexico border is so rampant that the government created an internal web site devoted to recently convicted agents.
In the last few years alone, numerous border agents have been convicted for accepting bribes from Mexican smugglers and investigations are pending against hundreds of others. Recent examples include four agents arrested in Arizona, Texas and California for helping smuggle illegal immigrants into the U.S.
Among the government’s most embarrassing case is a Border Patrol agent named Oscar Ortiz who admitted smuggling 100 illegal immigrants into the country in his government vehicle. The punch line is that Ortiz is himself an illegal immigrant who used a false birth certificate to get his government job.
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