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Border Corruption Continues Unabated

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An aspiring migrant from Mexico peers into the U.S. at the Tijuana-San Diego border. The crosses represent the deaths of failed attempts. Image by Tomas Catelazo and used under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
As The National Focus Drifts Away From The U.S./Mexico Border, It Is Business As Usual For Smugglers

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By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine

Nov. 15, 2011 — Another month, another set of high-profile border corruption cases.

Last week, the FBI formally charged a former member of the Arizona Army National Guard for his alleged role in a widespread bribery and illegal drug trafficking conspiracy that operated from January 2002 through March 2004.

A week before, a United States Border Patrol  was indicted on conspiracy to accept a bribe and acceptance of a bribe.

The case of the former Arizona National Guardsman, Adalberto Valenzuela, 31, of Tucson, Ariz., arose from Operation Lively Green, an undercover FBI investigation that began in December 2001. According to the indictment, Valenzuela was a corporal in the Arizona Army National Guard at the time he participated in the conspiracy. Valenzuela allegedly conspired to enrich himself by obtaining cash bribes from individuals he believed to be illegal narcotics traffickers, but who were actually FBI agents. The indictment alleges that in return for the bribes, Valenzuela used his official position as a corporal in the Arizona Army National Guard to assist, protect and participate in the activities of an illegal narcotics trafficking organization that was transporting and distributing cocaine within Arizona and from Arizona to other locations in the southwestern United States. In order to protect the shipments of cocaine, Valenzuela allegedly wore official uniforms and carried official forms of identification, used official vehicles, and used his official authority where necessary to prevent police stops, searches and seizures of the narcotics.

Also according to the indictment, Valenzuela transported cocaine on two separate occasions and, as a result, received bribe payments totaling $7,000 for the 40 kilograms of cocaine involved.

In 2006, an arrest warrant was issued for Valenzuela. Repeated attempts to locate and contact him have been unsuccessful. Valenzuela is now considered a fugitive and anyone with information regarding his whereabouts is encouraged to contact their local FBI office.

If convicted on the conspiracy charges, Valenzuela faces a maximum of five years in prison. The bribery and Hobbs Act charges each carry maximum prison sentences of 20 years. The federal program bribery charges each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, as do each of the drug conspiracy and possession charges. Valenzuela also faces a maximum $250,000 fine for each charged count.

To date, 57 additional defendants have been convicted and sentenced on related charges as part of Operation Lively Green. An additional 14 defendants have pleaded guilty in the Western District of Oklahoma in a related investigation known as Operation Tarnish Star.

Operation Lively Green cases are part of a joint investigation being conducted by the Southern Arizona Corruption Task Force, which includes the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security, and the Tucson Police Department. The Arizona Air National Guard, Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service are also participating in the investigation.

The Border Patrol agent, Abel Canales, of Tucson, Arizona, is charged with conspiracy to accept a bribe and acceptance of a bribe.

The indictment alleges that on Oct. 30, 2008, Canales accepted payment in return for allowing a U-Haul which he believed contained illegal contraband to pass through the I-19 Border Patrol checkpoint in Southern Arizona. That morning, a co-conspirator met with an individual, who he believed was a drug dealer and alien smuggler, near exit 17 in Rio Rico, Arizona, to coordinate the passage of a load of narcotics and/or illegal aliens through the I-19 checkpoint. After a phone call with Canales, the co-conspirator instructed the individual who he believed was a drug dealer and alien smuggler to tell the driver of a U-Haul that was purportedly loaded with narcotics or illegal aliens to begin driving northbound on I-19. The co-conspirator positioned his vehicle directly in front of the U-Haul, which was allegedly loaded with narcotics or illegal aliens, and led it to the checkpoint.

After multiple phone calls were exchanged between Canales and the co-conspirator, Canales instructed another Border Patrol agent, who was also working at the checkpoint, to take the co-conspirator’s vehicle to the secondary inspection area. While the co-conspirator’s vehicle was inspected, Canales asked the driver of the U-Haul if he was a U.S. citizen, to which the driver replied, “Buenos Dias”. Without any further questioning or inspection of the U-Haul, Canales waved the driver through the checkpoint onto northbound I-19.

That afternoon, the co-conspirator met with two individuals, who the conspirator believed were the owners of the load in the U-Haul, and received a manila envelope containing $8,000. After several phone calls between Canales and the co-conspirator, at approximately 6:00 p.m., the co-conspirator drove his vehicle to a parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Nogales, Arizona, where he met Canales, who was still wearing his Border Patrol Uniform. Canales exited his truck, approached the driver’s window of the co-conspirator’s vehicle, and returned to his truck with a manila colored envelope.

These cases are not rare. According to the U.S. Inspector General’s Office, there were more than 170 corruption cases among border patrol agents from 2003 to 2009. Put simply, the cash involved in people and narcotics smuggling is so massive that keeping a tight reign on illegal border incursions is virtually impossible.

The task of stopping people reaching for the hope of a middle class existence from Mexico and other places in Latin America is virtually impossible. The reason is simple: the smuggling of immigrants is intricately enmeshed with the smuggling of drugs. Sure, a human smuggler could make a decent living as long as he didn’t get caught. But a drug smuggler that uses the immigrants as mules can make more money than Oprah.

Since the border was tightened in the 1980s, driving cars across the border has become nearly impossible without information from turncoat Border Patrol agents or National Guardsmen. Using people as mules for drugs — especially those who don’t have the thousands needed to pay the smuggler — has firmly cemented the two industries.

Consequently, the sort of money generated from the combined drug and immigrant trade negates any and every plan border protection plan currently in operation.

Until the drug issue is settled, illegal immigrants will always be an issue.

John Guzzon is editor of Modern Times Magazine.
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