- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2006

Two U.S. soldiers and a former Air Force sergeant have pleaded guilty in a widespread bribery and extortion conspiracy as part of an ongoing undercover investigation that has already resulted in 50 guilty pleas from servicemen and civilian government workers, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher said yesterday.

Pleading guilty in Tucson, Ariz., on Thursday to one count each of “conspiring to enrich themselves by obtaining cash bribes from persons they believed to be drug traffickers” were Curtis W. Boston II, 24, formerly a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force; U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Rodney E. Mills, 39; and Arizona National Guard Sgt. Gustavo C. Soto, 33.

Court documents show the smugglers were actually undercover FBI agents, part of “Operation Lively Green,” with whom the three are accused of conspiring to use their positions to “assist, protect and participate in the activities of an illegal narcotics trafficking organization engaged in the business of transporting and distributing cocaine from Arizona to other locations in the southwestern United States.”

In order to protect the cocaine shipments, the records said, the men wore their uniforms, carried official identification cards and drove in military vehicles to prevent police inspections for narcotics as they transported the drugs through U.S. Border Patrol, Arizona Department of Public Safety and Nevada law-enforcement checkpoints.

Mrs. Fisher, who heads the Justice Department’s criminal division, said all the defendants escorted at least one shipment of cocaine from locations that included Nogales, Ariz., and Tucson, to large metro areas including Phoenix and Las Vegas. The three who pleaded guilty on Thursday accepted $50,000 in bribes for their participation. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. All three agreed to cooperate in the ongoing investigation and will be sentenced in June.

The fifty who have already pleaded were involved in more than $420,000 in bribes, Justice Department officials said, adding that more than 1,500 pounds of cocaine was transported by the servicemen and others. They will also be sentenced in June.

Authorities detailed one of the previous cases where soldiers drove three official government vehicles, including two military Humvees, to a clandestine desert airstrip near Benson, Ariz., where they met a twin-engine King Air aircraft flown by undercover FBI agents.

While in full uniform, the soldiers supervised the unloading of more than 130 pounds of cocaine from the airplane into their vehicles, which they then delivered to other agents posing as high-echelon narcotics traffickers at a resort hotel in Phoenix, the authorities said.

The cases are part of a joint investigation by the Southern Arizona Corruption Task Force, which is comprised of the FBI, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Tucson Police Department.

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