Ex-Border Patrol agents get at least 30 years
San Diego (US): A federal judge has sentenced two former Border Patrol agents to at least 30 years in prison for running a ring that smuggled more than 500 illegal immigrants into the United States.
US District Court Judge John Houston sentenced Raul Villarreal to 35 years in prison for being the ring leader on Friday. His brother, Fidel Villarreal, was sentenced to 30 years for managing the operation.
The sentences are among the longest given to border law enforcement officials.
Houston said he gave the severe sentences to deter other agents who have been entrusted by the American people to protect the border. The judge called their smuggling operation "disgusting" and a threat to national security.
Prosecutors said Raul Villarreal, who made television appearances as an agency spokesman and once played the role of a smuggler in a public service ad, recruited his brother to his ring. The brothers worked in cahoots with a corrupt Tijuana police officer and a network of others who arranged the pickups and drop-offs.
The agents would abandon their job duties manning the border to transport the migrants in Border Patrol vehicles sometimes several times a day, federal officials said.
Prosecutors said they smuggled in as many as 1,000 Mexicans and Brazilians; the judge put the figure at more than 500.
The brothers charged each immigrant about USD 10,000, and they made more than USD 700,000, the judge said.
"This long-term guaranteed method of bringing aliens into the United States was disgusting, pervasive and impacted significantly the national interest," Houston told the court before handing down their sentences.
The brothers did not show any emotion when the sentences were announced.
The federal probe began in May 2005 when an informant tipped off the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Investigators installed cameras in areas where migrants were dropped off, planted recording devices and placed tracking instruments on Border Patrol vehicles. They also trailed the ring`s smuggling operations by airplane.
Prosecutors said when the brothers learned they were being investigated in June 2006, they quit their jobs and fled to Mexico.
Two years later, the brothers were arrested there and extradited to the US where they were charged with human smuggling, witness tampering and bribery.
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