The former president of the National Border Patrol Council was indicted Thursday on suspicion of diverting union funds to finance personal travel, tickets to sporting events and hard drives used to store an extensive pornography collection.
Terence J. "T.J." Bonner, 59, diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars from dues-paying union members during more than two decades as president of the organization, which represents more than 14,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents, federal prosecutors said.
Bonner is accused of submitting bills and receiving payment for nonunion activities during his many trips across the country. The charges include conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud. He was allegedly assisted by a former top union official who was not named in the indictment.
"These false [reimbursement] claims included periods of time when Bonner was actually visiting his mistress in Chicago or family members, as well as trips to attend non-Union activities, such as hockey games and other sporting events," read the indictment issued by a federal grand jury in San Diego.
Bonner, a resident of El Cajon, east of San Diego, is scheduled to be arraigned Monday. His attorney, Eugene Iredale, was unavailable for comment.
The charges shocked many in the agency, where union dues are about $56 a month. An outspoken border security hawk, Bonner was a frequent commentator on television news shows and testified before Congress. He traveled often and built a reputation as a strong advocate for safe working conditions and decent salaries. He also was a critic of the Obama administration's immigration and border policies.
Bonner was credited with building up the union during the rapid growth in the border patrol ranks, turning it into one of the strongest in the federal workforce. "He gave us credibility on Capitol Hill and the media and with other agencies," said current union President George McCubbin.
McCubbin and others said Bonner, who retired in 2010, was a hard worker and widely respected. "Apparently, I didn't know him at all," McCubbin said.
The indictment alleges that Bonner padded expenses, claimed wages for work he didn't do, and made purchases unrelated to union activities. Among the items he bought were dozens of storage drives used for pornography, the indictment charges.
Bonner also allegedly sought reimbursement for dozens of hard drives used to store pornography. Such content on border patrol computers would have been specifically prohibited by government policy, the indictment read.
"Siphoning hundreds of thousands of dollars from hard-working fellow Border Patrol agents, many of whom put their lives on the line every day to protect this country, is a particularly troubling form of corruption that must be addressed," said Laura Duffy, the U.S. attorney in San Diego.