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Smugglers plead guilty in border bribery case

Smugglers plead guilty in border bribery case

WASHINGTON: A married Mexican couple pleaded guilty Thursday to smuggling unauthorized immigrants into San Diego, with the wife also admitting to bribing a US. Customs and Border Protection officer with cash and sexual favors for him to wave the illegal loads through his lane at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

Miriam Juarez Herrera, 35, and Gilberto Aguilar Martinez, 31, were arrested in September during a traffic stop following a lengthy investigation by the FBI Border Corruption Task Force. Customs Officer Jose Luis Cota was arrested the same day at work.

Cota has pleaded not guilty.

The couple admitted to conspiring with Cota to smuggle at least 10 immigrants into the US. from November 2015 until their arrest, charging as much as $15,000 per person, the US. Attorney’s Office said.

An unauthorized immigrant who cooperated with authorities said the couple promoted their smuggling services as a “guaranteed method,” according to search warrants.

Juarez located and recruited clients, negotiated the fee and paid bribes to Cota, then would smuggle the immigrants as passengers in her vehicle through Cota’s lane at the port of entry, according to the plea agreement. She would use fraudulent passports during the crossings, the plea states.

Her husband would pick up the job from there, according to the plea, by transporting the immigrants to a destination inside the US. and collecting the smuggling fee.

Bank records show Cota deposited thousands upon thousands of dollars into various accounts following smuggling activities, and cellphone records show hundreds of conversations with Juarez, according to search warrants. Surveillance of Cota and Juarez also revealed hotel room rendezvous.

The investigation, which began in 2013, used several methods, including surveillance, GPS tracking, recorded conversations, confidential witnesses and border crossing data.

Sentencing for Juarez and Aguilar has been set for April 7. Neither has legal status to be in the US., and both are expected to be deported once their sentences are served. They remain in custody.