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U.S. border officer gets 20 years for corruption, smuggling drugs

September 1, 2010 |  1:20 pm

Customs agent corruption A former U.S. Customs employee is headed to federal prison for 20 years after being convicted of corruption and smuggling charges in El Paso, Texas. Martha Alicia Garnica, 43, a former Customs and Border Protection officer, conspired to smuggle marijuana and undocumented migrants into the United States and bribed or attempted to bribe fellow officers, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said in a statement.

Garnica had pleaded guilty to the charges in May and was sentenced Aug. 26 by a federal judge. 

These sorts of cases are more common than readers might think. U.S. Homeland Security officials told a Senate panel in March that Mexican drug trafficking groups aggressively attempt to recruit border agents to allow narcotics and human smuggling through ports of entry. The Associated Press tallied 80 corruption-related convictions among enforcement officials along the U.S.-Mexico border since 2007, and 129 arrests of agents on corruption-related charges in all ports since 2003.

Polygraph tests are conducted on only 1 in 10 applicants to border enforcement jobs, and 60% of applicants who undergo a lie detector test are deemed unsuitable to be hired, a Department of Homeland Security official said in Washington. In other words, the AP said, many brought in during the agency's recent hiring boom "could have joined with corruption already in mind."

In June, for example, a federal judge in New Mexico sent another former border agent to prison for smuggling cocaine and marijuana into the U.S. between 2006 and 2008. The agent, Eric Macias, was hired in 2005.

Agents implicated in the smuggling of guns south into Mexico is also an issue the U.S. is attempting to tackle. An ex-FBI agent was sentenced last week to two years in federal prison for buying and selling more than 200 firearms without a license, among other charges.

— Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Former U.S. border agent Martha Alicia Garnica in custody. Credit: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

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