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Customs officer pleads guilty in immigrant-smuggling case

December 13, 2012|By Michael Muskal
  • The U.S.-Mexico border, seen from Nogales, Mexico.
The U.S.-Mexico border, seen from Nogales, Mexico. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated…)

Four people, including a former Customs and Border Protection officer, pleaded guilty on Thursday to running a multiyear operation that smuggled immigrants into the United States from Mexico.

The guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in the Southern District of Texas were announced by the federal Department of Justice.

The former customs officer, Juan Carlos Guerrero, 39, of Mission, Texas, pleaded guilty to one count of substantive bribery, one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and one count of alien smuggling conspiracy.

Guerrero’s girlfriend, Claudia Flores, 34, of Mission; Maribel Rivera, 43, of Mission; and Rodolfo Caballero Rojas, 40, of Oklahoma City, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and immigrant smuggling, officials said.

From 2008 until last year, Guerrero worked the midnight shift at three ports of entry. Among his responsibilities was inspecting vehicles heading north from Mexico into the United States.

According to court documents, between about January 2009 and May 2011, Guerrero and Flores organized a bribery and smuggling operation. During that time they, along with Rivera, Rojas, and Guerrero’s nephew Jose Cantu, arranged for undocumented immigrants to be smuggled into the United States through Guerrero’s inspection lanes at the crossings. Guerrero admitted that he allowed as many as 165 immigrants to illegally enter in exchange for bribes ranging from $500 to $3,000 per immigrant.

Flores admitted that she helped Guerrero allow as many as 100 immigrants to enter the United States. Rivera admitted that she assisted Guerrero and Flores by identifying and soliciting immigrants and collecting the bribes. Rojas admitted that he drove immigrants through Guerrero’s inspection lane, according to the Justice Department.

Last July 24, Cantu pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, alien smuggling and a separate charge of conspiracy to import marijuana and cocaine.

The charge of bribery carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the financial gain. The charge of conspiracy carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gain. The charge of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling for private financial gain carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gain.

Sentencing was set for March 18.

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