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Justice presses jailed agent for $7,000 in fines

Lawmaker backs Border Patrol

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ignoring calls for leniency, the Justice Department has told a jailed former Border Patrol agent it will start docking his commissary account as a way to begin assessing nearly $7,000 in fines, even though a judge told him he wouldn't have to start paying immediately.

Jesus E. Diaz Jr. was sentenced to prison for two years for using excessive force in arresting an illegal immigrant who was suspected of smuggling drugs. His case has become a cause for defenders of the Border Patrol, and Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, has sent two letters asking Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to intervene and delay the fines.

But the Justice Department has not responded to Mr. Hunter and instead told Diaz they will begin taking $25 a month from his account at the prison commissary, beginning next month, according to Diaz's wife, Diana, who is also a Border Patrol agent.

"I don't know if the government is that hard-pressed for money," she said. "l don't know what to tell him anymore."

The commissary account is used to pay for necessities such as shoes while Diaz is in prison. Prisoners can earn money based on their work inside the prison, or from limited transfers from family or friends.

The Border Patrol terminated Diaz's employment last month, and Mrs. Diaz said she didn't know how they would make the fine payments while her husband was in prison.

The judgment in the case laid out a schedule of payments of "no less than $220.00 per month, due by the third day of each month beginning no earlier than 60 days from the date of release from imprisonment." But it goes on to say that doesn't "prevent statutorily authorized collection efforts."

The local U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas said last month it is following through on that.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hunter said he hasn't heard back after his two letters to Mr. Holder.

"What the silence says is that the case is either indefensible or that the attorney general simply doesn't care," Mr. Hunter said. "What's so unfortunate about this whole thing is that a Border Patrol agent is sitting in jail and the attorney general couldn't be less interested in speaking about a case that involves not just one border agent, but the entire Border Patrol and its mission."

More than three dozen House Republicans have challenged the two-year sentence Diaz received, saying it sets a bad precedent for other Border Patrol agents.

Two personnel investigations cleared Diaz of wrongdoing, but a third one found wrongdoing. Diaz was prosecuted and sentenced to two years in prison for violating the constitutional rights of the 15-year-old suspected drug smuggler.

The Justice Department didn't respond to a request for comment about Mr. Hunter's letters or the appeals for leniency.

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