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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Border Cop OK's 3,000 Pounds of Cocaine into US

Border Inspector Accused of Allowing 3,000 Pounds of Cocaine Into U.S. Over 5 Years
The New York Times by ANDREW BECKER - November 10, 2008

A veteran customs inspector recently arrested in Texas on drug charges helped traffickers smuggle about 3,000 pounds of cocaine into the country over five years, according to a court document filed last week. The inspector, Jorge A. Leija, 43, allowed smugglers to drive cars loaded with cocaine through his entry lane at the Eagle Pass border crossing, about 140 miles southwest of San Antonio, without inspection, according to testimony by an unnamed Drug Enforcement Administration agent. Mr. Leija was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars from January 2001 to October 2006, the agent said at a bail hearing on Thursday in Federal District Court in Del Rio, Tex. Court documents said Mr. Leija was also paid $30,000 to make false statements on an application he submitted in September 2003 to obtain an American passport for another person.

Mr. Leija worked as an inspector for 11 years, said Rick Pauza, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman in Laredo, Tex. Late last month, a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Leija on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and making a false statement. He was arrested on Oct. 30. Mr. Leija had been placed on administrative duty more than two years before his arrest and assigned to a desk job, said his lawyer, Richard F. Gutierrez. Mr. Leija’s arrest is the latest in scores of corruption cases the past few years involving agents along the nearly 2,000-mile border with Mexico. The cases have come as the Border Patrol and other agencies that police the border have significantly increased their ranks. Internal affairs investigators are being added to address corruption, but the problem, officials have said, could get worse before it gets better. Ronald D. Moore, the special agent in charge of the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general’s office in Houston, which helped investigate the Leija case, said the office “takes very seriously allegations of public corruption involving Homeland Security employees and works with other law enforcement agencies to ensure that those who violate the public trust are brought to justice.” Based on the drug enforcement agent’s testimony, Magistrate Judge Dennis G. Green ordered Mr. Leija held without bail, citing his frequent travel to Mexico and “the huge amount of cocaine involved.” Mr. Leija, a naturalized American citizen born in the Mexican state of Coahuila, told investigators that he traveled to Mexico three or four times a week to visit his children. He earned an annual salary of nearly $62,000 at the time of his arrest, according to the detention order, but owed more than $50,000 in credit card debt and car payments. Mr. Leija faces a sentence of 10 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $4 million if convicted. He is scheduled to be arraigned on Nov. 20.

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