- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

An admitted drug runner who was shot by two border patrol agents while trying to run away pleaded guilty yesterday to four counts of drug-related charges after being granted immunity from federal prosecutors to testify against the agents.

Osvaldo Aldrete Davila, an illegal immigrant who was the star witness against Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, faces five to 40 years in prison and up to $2 million in fines, although he is expected to serve only minimal time.

He pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance, conspiracy to import a controlled substance and conspiracy to distribute.

The unexpected turn of events left family members of the agents and supporters wondering where the case will go from here. Ramos and Compean, who were convicted of shooting Aldrete Davila, are waiting for an appellate court to rule in their case.

Ramos’ wife Monica attended the hearing in the same building she last saw her husband before he was taken into custody.

“I feel like I have a knot in my stomach, it reminds me of the day when Nacho began his sentence,” she told The Washington Times by phone. “I think it’s a good additional step in the vindication of my husband. It’s really a big step.”

Aldrete Davila, who helped prosecutors in Texas convict Ramos and Compean, pleaded guilty to bringing in two more loads of drugs in September and October 2005, after he had already been given immunity for the Feb. 17, 2005, smuggling incident during which he was shot in the buttocks by the agents. Ramos and Compean are serving 11 and 12 years respectively.

Texas Prosecutor Johnny Sutton, whose office successfully prosecuted the case, said the agents covered up the shooting and filed a false report of the encounter.

“I have repeatedly said that if we obtained sufficient competent and admissible evidence against Aldrete, we would prosecute him,” Mr. Sutton said yesterday. “Just as Aldrete’s illegal conduct did not excuse the crimes committed by Compean and Ramos, likewise, their crimes did not excuse his.”

The agents appealed their case to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in December. The court has not yet returned a decision in the case, in which federal prosecutors admitted to the three-judge panel that Aldrete Davila lied.

A source involved in the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to The Times because of the ongoing appeals, said prosecutors who “vigorously” prosecuted the agents “would like to see the case go away.”

“Davila’s conviction keeps him from talking about the government’s involvement in the case, in which they allowed him to lie on the witness stand. They want this to go away,” the source said.

Aldrete Davila was apprehended by DEA agents last year at the international port of entry in El Paso, after witnesses identified him in a second drug smuggling operation.

Tara Setmayer, a spokeswoman for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican who championed for the agents since their conviction, visited with Ramos earlier this month at a federal prison in Arizona.

Describing the visit as somber, she reiterated that Ramos spent the majority of his time in prison in solitary confinement. “Despite everything, all he wants to do is have the opportunity to put back on his Border Patrol uniform and serve,” she said.

Mr. Rohrabacher said the “trial jury was lied to not only by the drug dealer himself, but by the prosecutors who were intentionally presenting a false image of the smuggler as victim and one-time offender.”

Aldrete Davila was issued six unconditional border crossing cards by Mr. Sutton’s office that gave him unfettered access to the U.S., at which time he smuggled more narcotics into the U.S.

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