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Agent cleared in smuggling case

A Border Patrol officer who gave a co-worker's girlfriend a lift from Mexico is acquitted.

March 10, 2007|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — A federal jury in Tucson on Friday acquitted Border Patrol Agent Ephraim Cruz of charges that he smuggled another agent's girlfriend across the border from Mexico to the U.S.

Cruz, 34, had been prosecuted as part of a series of cases against agents who had dated -- and in some cases married -- illegal immigrants.

During his two-week trial, Cruz testified that he had given the woman a lift in January 2005 when he was driving home from a bar in Agua Prieta, Mexico, and saw her walking back to the United States. He said he knew her as the girlfriend of another agent in the Douglas, Ariz., station and had seen her at numerous social gatherings.

Prosecutors argued Cruz knew that the woman was in the U.S. illegally because she once told him that her boyfriend had threatened to deport her. Cruz and his attorney, Roger Sigal, maintained that the prosecution was retaliation for memos the agent wrote about overcrowding and abuse of detained immigrants.

"This is a win for the Border Patrol," Cruz said after the verdict. "This tells junior agents that if you report wrongdoing and you believe in that report, the truth will prevail."

Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the Phoenix U.S. attorney's office, which handled the prosecution, said: "We respect the jury's decision."

Two Border Patrol agents and a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer, who have since left law enforcement, did not fight charges that they helped illegal immigrants with whom they had relationships.

nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

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