OCTOBER 21, 2008
A pair of corrupt U.S. Border Patrol agents who fled the country more than two years ago have been arrested in their native Mexico and charged with taking bribes to help illegal immigrants cross the border.
The agents, brothers Raul and Fidel Villarreal, have been on the run since being implicated in an immigrant smuggling investigation in mid 2006. An 18-count grand jury indictment charges them with smuggling illegal immigrants, accepting bribes, money laundering and witness tampering.
The disgraced federal agents are naturalized U.S. citizens from Mexico, which means they can be deported to avoid costly and time-consuming extradition proceedings. They were living in an apartment in Tijuana, not far from the area they were hired by U.S. taxpayers to guard.
The brothers were veteran agents in San Diego. Raul Villarreal, 39, was the spokesman for the agency’s San Diego sector, often appearing on Spanish-language television newscasts. Fidel, 40, was a supervisory agent who patrolled the mountains east of San Diego.
Prosecutors say a co-conspirator would lead illegal immigrants across desolate areas of the U.S.-Mexico border on foot and one of the brothers would pick them up in his government-issued vehicle and transport them further north. The indictment also says the Villarreal brothers threatened witnesses in the grand jury investigation with physical force.
The Villarreal investigation was one of several bribery and smuggling cases involving federal officers patrolling the Mexican border in 2006. At the time two Customs and Border Protection officers were charged for taking bribes to allow illegal immigrants into the country and two Border Patrol supervisory agents pleaded guilty to accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to release smugglers and illegal aliens who had been detained.
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