Former CBP Inspector Sentenced for Alien Smuggling, Bribery, and Drug Trafficking
|U.S. Attorney’s Office November 05, 2009|
BROWNSVILLE, TX—Former Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspector Sergio Lopez Hernandez, 41, has been sentenced to 135 months in federal prison for alien smuggling, bribery and drug trafficking, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today. Hernandez was convicted April 13, 2009, following his guilty plea to conspiring to transport aliens within the U.S., bringing aliens into the U.S. for private financial gain, accepting bribes in his capacity as a government official as well as possessing with intent to distribute 15 kilograms of cocaine.
At the time of his re-arraignment, Hernandez admitted that between July 2008, and Jan. 28, 2009, while employed as a CBP inspector, he corruptly demanded, sought, received and accepted cash from co-conspirators in amounts in excess of $150,000 to allow illegal aliens and narcotics to enter the United States and that he possessed with intent to distribute approximately 15 kilograms of cocaine on Jan. 28, 2009. Today, United States District Judge Hilda G. Tagle handed down the more than 11-year prison term which is to be followed by a five-year-term of supervised release and imposed a $10,000 fine.
The investigation that lead to the charges and today’s sentence was initiated in December 2008. Through an undercover operation, agents sought to identify a CBP officer who was allegedly facilitating the smuggling of undocumented aliens via his/her vehicle primary inspection lanes at the B & M International Bridge Port of Entry in Los Indios, Cameron County, Texas, in exchange for cash. Jose Estrada-Lopez, an alien smuggler, was paid $1700 to smuggle an undocumented alien into the United States. While unknowingly being watched by investigative agents, Estrada-Lopez was observed driving the undocumented alien through Hernandez’s primary inspection lane and permitted to pass through into the United States without inspection. The undocumented alien was delivered by Estrada-Lopez to an undercover agent. The alien positively identified Hernandez as the CBP officer who had allowed him to enter the United States illegally. The same process was followed on two other dates in December 2008, and again in January 2009. Each time the aliens were driven through Hernandez’s primary inspection lane and permitted to enter without documentation and each time the aliens positively identified Hernandez as the CBP officer involved. Federal agents suspected that co-conspirators contacted Hernandez in advance to learn when he would be on duty and in which lane. The smuggling efforts were then planned to coincide with Hernandez’s duty hours and inspection lane.
On Jan. 28, 2009, federal agents set up surveillance at the Los Indios Port of Entry and watched as four previously identified vehicles used to smuggle undocumented aliens entered the U.S. from Mexico through Hernandez’s primary inspection lane. Estrada entered driving a 1998 Lincoln Towncar, Javier Alonso-Banda entered driving a 2000 Dodge Stratus, while Francisco Mejia-Fajardo entered the U.S. driving a 2008 Nissan Tiida. Each of the three co-defendants had three undocumented aliens riding as passengers in their respective cars. The three undocumented aliens in the 2008 Nissan were seen exiting that vehicle and entering the fourth vehicle driven by yet another smuggler. Investigating agents stopped the Lincoln, Dodge and Nissan resulting in the arrest of Estrada-Lopez, Alonso-Banda and Mejia-Fajardo and the detention of the undocumented aliens in their vehicles as well as the discovery of 15 kilograms of cocaine in the vehicle driven by Mejia. The fourth vehicle returned to Mexico avoiding apprehension.
During interviews with investigating agents, Mejia-Fajardo, Alonso-Banda and Estrada-Lopez confirmed Hernandez was the CBP officer they had been contacted in advance and paid to permit the entry of undocumented aliens into the United States through his primary inspection lane during his duty hours. Mejia-Fajardo and Hernandez also admitted to knowingly possessing with intent to distribute the 15 kilograms of cocaine found in the car driven by Mejia-Fajardo. Mejia-Fajardo told agents Hernandez had previously facilitated the smuggling of cocaine into the U. S. through his primary inspection lane in exchange for cash.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Tagle also ordered Hernandez to forfeited to the United States $85,250 seized from him as well as any interest he had in the three vehicles used on Jan. 28 to commit the offenses. The court also entered a money judgment against Hernandez in the amount of $160,000, constituting the total amount of the proceeds of his illegal conduct, payable to the United States. The $85,250 already seized and forfeited will be credited against this judgment.
In deciding upon the sentence she ultimately imposed upon Hernandez, Judge Tagle considered that Hernandez committed these offices while acting in an official capacity, received more than one bribe, received more than $5,000 in bribes, was in a high level or sensitive position and used his position as a public official to facilitate the illegal entry persons and narcotics into United States.
Alonso-Banda, 37, and Estrada-Lopez, 32, both Mexican nationals, were also sentenced today. Alonzo-Banda was sentence to 24 months and Estrada-Lopez was sentenced to 60 months in federal prison for bringing in certain aliens into the United States for commercial advantage and private financial gain. All three co-defendants pleaded guilty to the offenses for which they were sentenced. Mejia-Fajardo, 21, is to be sentenced on a later date for bringing in certain aliens into the United States for commercial advantage and private financial gain and for possessing with intent to distribute approximately 15 kilograms of cocaine on Jan. 28, 2009. All three defendants were convicted after pleading guilty to federal charges.
The investigation leading to the charge against Hernandez and his co-conspirators was conducted by agents of the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement - Office of Professional Responsibility, Department of Homeland Security - Office of Inspector General and CBP - Office Of Internal Affairs. Assistant U.S. Attorney Angel Castro prosecuted the case.