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2 former Border Patrol agents convicted of human smuggling

Two former U.S. Border Patrol agents from San Diego who fled to Mexico while under investigation for smuggling illegal immigrants into the country were convicted Friday of conspiracy and human smuggling.

Brothers Raul and Fidel Villarreal used government vehicles to transport illegal immigrants who were guided across the border by Mexican smugglers, according to prosecutors. The scheme ran from 2005 to 2006.

The federal investigation took an embarrassing turn in 2006 when the brothers fled their home in a San Diego suburb after being tipped off to the probe. They were captured two years later in Tijuana.

Raul Villarreal, 42, was the spokesman for the Border Patrol's San Diego sector and made frequent appearances on Spanish-language television newscasts. He once played the role of a cold-hearted Mexican smuggler in a public service announcement meant to discourage immigrants from making dangerous border crossings.

Fidel Villarreal, 40, was a supervisory patrol agent who worked in the mountains east of San Diego.

The brothers each face a maximum possible sentence of 50 years in prison at their sentencing hearing in November.


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-- Richard Marosi in San Diego

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