Military, law enforcement caught in FBI drug trafficking sting
Associated Press May. 12, 2005 06:15 PM
TUCSON - Pretending to be cocaine traffickers, FBI agents in Arizona snared 16 current and former law enforcement officers and U.S. soldiers who accepted more than $222,000 in bribes to help move the drugs past checkpoints, Justice Department officials said Thursday.
Those charged include a former Immigration and Naturalization Service inspector, a former Army sergeant, a former federal prison guard, seven members of the Arizona Army National Guard, five members of the Arizona Department of Corrections and a Nogales, Ariz., police officer, officials said.
All 16 agreed to plead guilty to being part of a bribery and public corruption conspiracy, said Noel Hillman, a Justice Department official.
Eleven of the 16 defendants entered guilty pleas Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court. Two other defendants were scheduled to enter their pleas Friday with the remaining three on Monday, authorities said.
Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys would discuss details of the sting operation.
The 16 took cash bribes from people they believed to be narcotics traffickers, according to Hillman.
"What the defendants did not know at the time was that the persons paying the bribes were actually special agents for the FBI," Hillman said.
Each faced a single conspiracy count carrying a maximum prison term of five years and a $250,000 fine, though all could be entitled to probation, Hillman said.
The defendants in the nearly 3 1/2-year-long sting were not arrested and agreed to cooperate with an ongoing investigation expected to bring more arrests and involve people from additional agencies, said Hillman and FBI Special Agent Jana D. Monroe, who is in charge of FBI operations in Arizona.
Hillman said the defendants drove cocaine shipments past checkpoints manned by the Border Patrol, Arizona Department of Public Safety and Nevada law enforcement officers while they wore official uniforms, carried identification and used official vehicles. They "used their color of authority where necessary to prevent police stops, searches and seizures of narcotics," he said.
"Many individuals charged were sworn personnel having the task of protecting society and securing America's borders," Monroe said. "The importance of these tasks cannot be overstated and we cannot tolerate, nor can the American people afford, this type of corruption."
Hillman and Monroe said the FBI was tipped about an individual and set up the fake trafficking organization in December 2001. Military and police personnel then were lured with money to help distribute the cocaine or allow it to pass through checkpoints they were guarding, Hillman said.
Authorities engaged in an elaborate effort to determine that the defendants were predisposed to taking bribes, he said.
One defendant, John M. Castillo, 30, was on duty as an INS inspector at a border checkpoint in Nogales in April 2002 when he twice allowed a truck he believed was carrying at least 88 pounds of cocaine to enter the country without being inspected, Hillman said.
Castillo later sold INS documents to an undercover FBI agent that fraudulently provided for entry of undocumented immigrants into the United States, he said.
In another instance in 2002, several of those charged met an aircraft flown by undercover FBI agents that was carrying 132 pounds of cocaine at a remote desert airstrip, he added.
In full uniform, they supervised the loading of the cocaine into two military Humvees assigned to the National Guard and another government vehicle, then drove to a resort hotel in Phoenix - where another undercover agent posing as a trafficker paid them in cash, Hillman said.
The investigation is not a reflection of the agencies which employed those charged "nor does it represent the caliber of other men and women who honorably serve within these agencies," Monroe said.
The FBI used real cocaine seized in other operations, the officials said. The 16 suspects transported more than 1,230 pounds of cocaine, the officials said. Each escorted at least two shipments of cocaine to Phoenix, Las Vegas and other locations, they said.
The cocaine, with a street value of nearly $18.5 million, never ultimately left FBI possession, officials said.
John M. Castillo, 30, an inspector with the former Immigration and Naturalization Service
Robert L. Bakerx, 43, a Sergeant in the AANG
David M. Bustamante, 35, formerly a corrections officer with the Arizona Department of Corrections
Joel P. Bustamante, 33, formerly a corrections officer with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons
Jorge A. Calzadillas, 22, a private first class in the AANG
Demian F. Castillo, 33, a specialist first class with the AAND
Mark A. Fillman, 55, formerly a specialist first calss with the AANG
Jimmy L. Ford, Jr., 29, formerly a corrections officer with the ADOC
Guillermo German, 36, formerly a corrections officer with the ADOC
Angels S. Hernandez, 31, formerly a sergeant in the U.S. Army
Moises Hernandez, 21, a private in the AANG
Leslie B. Hidalgo, 42, a private first class in the AANG
John F. Manje, 36, formerly a sergeant in the ANND and formerly a corrections officer with ADOC
Gladys C. Sanchez, 24, former ADOC
Angel M. Soto, 41, formerly a corrections officer with the ADOC
Phillip Varona, 22, formerly an officer with the Nogales, Ariz., police department
Source: U.S. District Court records
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