U.S. Border Patrol agent Reynaldo Zuniga was arrested last month lugging a bag of cocaine up from the Rio Grande, one of a growing number of law enforcement officers accused of taking bribes from drug gangs.Billions thrown at border enforcement can be stymied in any given moment by the actions of one corrupt cop or Border Patrol officer. But then, there's hardly been just one.
Former colleagues say Zuniga used to wait until agents in the south Texas town of Harlingen were distracted with paperwork, then slip down to the river and help smuggle in drugs from Mexico.
The increasing use of bribes by Mexican drug cartels to corrupt U.S. agents comes as Washington is sending $400 million to help Mexico's army-led war on the trafficking gangs, whose brutal murders have surged to unprecedented levels.
"Zuniga was a good agent and a hard worker. I can't understand why he would do this. We're supposed to be protecting our borders," said Border Patrol agent Daniel Doty, a former colleague.
Data on agents convicted of graft are not made public, but the U.S. government is probing hundreds of border corruption cases where a decade ago it saw a few dozen a year. The FBI-led Border Corruption Task Force says it is busier than ever.
"We've seen a sharp increase in investigations along the border over the past three years," said Andy Black, who oversees the San Diego task force, near the busy border crossing of San Ysidro.
"We are talking about a minority of agents but they are a very significant threat, a weak link in efforts to secure the border."
Some put the rise in bribery down to a recent tightening of border controls and a jump in hiring new agents. Smugglers can offer hundreds of thousands of dollars to get past the heavily policed border with drugs and immigrants -- much more than a border agent or sheriff makes in a year.
Gangs also often use attractive women as bait, setting a "honey trap" to entice officials.
"I was offered sex to let a woman across the Rio Grande, but I have a family, I turned her down," one agent told Reuters as his sniffer dog searched a freight train for immigrants and drugs in the Texan borderlands, steamy with tropical rain.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
FBI: Border corruption increasing on US side
Coming on the heels of allegations that Los Zetas corrupted a deputy constable in Collin County, I was interested to see that Reuters has a feature on drug-enforcement related police corruption at the southern end of the state ("Drug smugglers bribing US agents on Mexican border," July 15):