SAN DIEGO — A former Immigration and Naturalization Service inspector has been indicted on charges that he allowed smugglers to pass 1,300 pounds of marijuana and possibly hundreds of illegal immigrants through the U.S.-Mexico border at San Ysidro, a federal prosecutor said.
Michael Taylor, 39, was allegedly a key player in a three-year scheme in which pagers and cellphones were used to tell smugglers which one of the 24 inspection lanes he was manning.
"There were payoffs made to get guaranteed safe passage through a lane," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Edward C. Weiner, the lead prosecutor on the case.
Taylor, who resigned from the INS in 2001, was being held in federal custody in Atlanta pending his transfer to San Diego to face charges. Taylor was arrested on May 17 and his indictment was unsealed the next day.
Taylor's attorney could not be reached for comment.
Nine others have been charged in the 18-count indictment, including a 23-year-old student at UC Davis. The charges include marijuana smuggling and conspiracy to bring in aliens for financial gain.
The alleged scheme took place from 1998 to 2001, during the hours that Taylor was manning one of the booths at the busiest border crossing in the world.
Agents rotated booths about every hour, so Taylor and other co-conspirators would allegedly signal his location to the smugglers with electronic devices, according to the indictment.
Smugglers would pass through his lane with three or four illegal immigrants in their sport utility vehicles or vans, Weiner said. He said the immigrants -- from Mexico, Central America and China -- were charged as much as $2,500.
Weiner said the case grew out of a series of investigations of smuggling at the border
Taylor resigned after investigators discovered a large amount of marijuana at a San Diego auto repair shop that he frequented. He was not charged with a crime at the time, Weiner said.
If convicted, Taylor faces a potential 204-year prison term.