A former U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer, his girlfriend and two of their associates pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to a multiyear scheme along the U.S.-Mexico border in which he solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and let nearly 200 illegal immigrants enter the U.S.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, who heads the Justice Department's criminal division, announced the guilty pleas in Washington, saying former CBP Officer Juan Carlos Guerrero, 39, of Mission, Texas, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in the Southern District of Texas 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, all pleaded guilty to separate counts of conspiracy to commit bribery and alien smuggling.
The four were indicted on Oct. 5 in U.S. District Court in Brownsville, Texas. Each was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, one count of conspiracy to smuggle aliens for financial gain and various substantive counts of bribery and alien smuggling.
According to court documents, between October 2008 and January 2011, Guerrero worked the midnight shift at the ports of entry in Hidalgo, Pharr and Mission, where, among other things, he was responsible for vehicle inspections of northbound traffic traveling from Mexico into South Texas.
The documents charge that Guerrero and Flores organized a bribery and alien-smuggling operation, during which the four suspects, Guerrero's nephew Jose Cantu and other co-conspirators arranged for illegal immigrants from Mexico to be smuggled through Guerrero's inspection station in exchange for bribes ranging from $500 to $3,000.
Guerrero admitted he organized and directed a total of at least 80 to 150 different smuggling acts, in which he knowingly permitted 80 to 165 illegal immigrants entry into the United States.
According to court documents, Flores admitted helping Guerrero organize and direct 50 to 75 of the illegal crossings, in which 50 to 100 illegal immigrants gained entry into the U.S. Rivera admitted assisting Guerrero and Flores by identifying and soliciting illegal immigrants, communicating smuggling fees and details of the illegal crossings, and collecting payments on Guerrero and Flores' behalf.
Rojas admitted, among other things, that he assisted Guerrero by personally driving illegal immigrants through Guerrero's inspection lane at the Anzalduas port of entry and that he paid Guerrero a bribe of $1,500.
As part of his plea agreement, Guerrero resigned Thursday from CBP.
Cantu pleaded guilty in July to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and alien smuggling and a separate charge of conspiracy to import marijuana and cocaine. Sentencing for all five is scheduled for March 18.
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