FBI San Diego
Special Agent Davene Butler
(858) 320-1800
September 8, 2016

Customs and Border Protection Officer Arrested for Receiving Sexual Favors in Exchange for Allowing Aliens to be Smuggled Through His Lane

FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric S. Birnbaum announced three arrests and the filing of a six-count federal complaint against a United States Customs and Border Protection Officer and two co-conspirators as a result of a public corruption and alien smuggling investigation conducted in San Diego, California.

Jose Luis Cota, age 50, employed as a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer at the San Ysidro Port of Entry; Miriam Elizabeth Juarez Herrera, age 31, a removed alien who is charged with smuggling unlawful aliens into the U.S. from the Republic of Mexico; and Gilberto Aguilar-Martinez, age 31, a removed alien and two-time convicted felon, charged with assisting with the alien smuggling operation, were arrested late on Wednesday, September 7, 2016, in San Diego, California.

Cota, Juarez-Herrera, and Aguilar-Martinez were arrested without incident by FBI agents along with agents and/or officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Office of Field Operations; U.S. CBP, Office Of Professional Responsibility; and U.S. Border Patrol. Thereafter, the persons arrested were transported to the San Diego FBI Field Office for fingerprinting, photographing, and interviews.

According to the complaint filed in this matter, after approaching Cota’s vehicle primary inspection lane from the Republic of Mexico at the San Ysidro Port of Entry (SYPOE), Cota allowed Juarez-Herrera, Aguilar-Martinez, and/or other persons without prior official authorization to enter into the United States on November 3, 2015; November 16, 2015; March 15, 2016; and September 7, 2016. Financial records indicated large sums of cash were deposited into Cota’s bank accounts following the smuggling events.

According to the complaint, during an interview with FBI agents, Juarez-Herrera admitted she smuggled aliens through the SYSPOE and paid bribes, in the form of cash and sexual favors, to Cota in exchange for him unlawfully admitting her and the aliens into the United States through his primary lane at the SYPOE. The complaint further alleges that Cota stated that in exchange for him unlawfully admitting Juarez-Herrera and the aliens into the United States, Cota received bribes, in the form of sexual favors, from Juarez-Herrera.

On September 8, 2016, Cota, Juerez-Herrera and Aguilar-Martinez were booked into the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in San Diego, California pending initial appearances in federal court before a U.S. Magistrate Judge. Initial appearances were then held before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara L. Major on September 8, 2016. During the initial appearances, the United States moved to detain all three defendants due to their risk of flight. A detention hearing for each defendant is scheduled for September 14, 2016 at 9:30 a.m. before U.S. Magistrate Barbara L. Major. A preliminary hearing is also scheduled for September 22, 2016 at 9:30 a.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara L. Major.

Defendants in Magistrate Case Numner 16MJ2796-BLM:

  • Jose Luis Cota
  • Miriam Juarez-Herrera
  • Gilberto Aguilar-Martinez

Summary of Charges:

Count one: Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1544 and 2-misuse of passport and aiding and abetting; statutory maximum sentence of 20 years’ custody, a maximum fine of $250,000, special assessment of $100, and a maximum term of supervised release of three years. As to defendants: Jose Luis Cota and Miriam Juarez-Herreram.

Count two: Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1519 and 2-destruction, alteration, or falsification of records; statutory maximum sentence of 20 years’ custody, a maximum fine of $250,000, special assessment of $100, and a maximum term of supervised release of three years. As to defendant: Jose Luis Cota.

Counts three and six: Title 8, United States Code, Section 1324(a)(2)(B)(ii)-bringing in unlawful aliens for financial gain; mandatory minimum of three years’ custody and a maximum sentence of 15 years’ custody, a maximum fine of $250,000, special assessment of $100, and a maximum term of supervised release of three years. As to defendants: Jose Luis Cota, Miriam Juarez-Herrera, and Gilberto Aguilar-Martinez.

Counts four and five: Title 18, United States Code, Section 201-bribery of public official and receiving bribe by public official;- statutory maximum sentence of 15 years’ custody, a $250,000 fine or three times the amount of the bribe, whichever is greater, special assessment of $100, and a maximum term of supervised release of three years. As to defendants: Jose Luis Cota, Miriam Juarez-Herrera, and Gilberto Aguilar-Martinez.

This matter is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of California in San Diego, California.

Investigating Agencies:

This investigation was conducted by the Border Corruption Task Force (BCTF) consisting of the following agencies: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)-Office of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)-Office Of Professional Responsibility, and U.S. Border Patrol. Assisting the BCTF in the investigation was the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.

An arrest and filing of a complaint are not evidence that the defendants committed the crime(s) charged. The defendants are presumed innocent until the government meets its burden in court of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.