A former U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer from Nogales was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for taking a $6,000 bribe to allow a previously deported felon to enter the United States through a local port of entry.
Jose Rosalio “Pollito” Fuentes, 58, of Nogales, was sentenced on Jan. 14 at U.S. District Court in Tucson after previously pleading guilty to one count of bribery of a public official. Judge Rosemary Marquez also ordered him to serve three years of community supervision upon his release from prison, and to pay monetary penalties totaling $6,100.
In a pre-sentencing memorandum, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Fuentes was working as a canine officer for CBP in Nogales on Feb. 8, 2018 when an unidentified co-conspirator sent him a message asking what would happen if a man named Juan Carlos Gonzalez Villa, who was in Mexico at the time, turned himself in at the border for outstanding warrants.
Fuentes reportedly responded that because Gonzalez was a deported felon, he would be arrested and subject to five years incarceration. Or, he said, Gonzalez “can wait for when I’m there and then well … he passes, right.”
The next day, they negotiated the terms of the deal. “I would like to see if it could be six … at least to pay for this month’s utilities because I’m also behind,” Fuentes wrote. “Please if you could make it six, thanks. Bye.”
On Feb. 10, 2018, Fuentes took his port in the pedestrian area of a local port of entry. Gonzalez and the person negotiating the deal arrived and Fuentes motioned them to his lane.
Surveillance video reportedly shows Fuentes scanning only one ID, but allowing both people to enter the country. He later sent a message asking for immediate payment of the bribe, saying: “I have to pay my bills on Monday. Thanks.”
Fuentes later met up with Gonzalez and the co-conspirator to receive the $6,000 cash bribe. Approximately one week later, Gonzalez was arrested on several outstanding warrants, including one for a federal weapons offense.
Gonzalez, 44, later pleaded guilty to bribing a public official. In his plea agreement, which he signed in November 2018, he described how he showed up at the port wearing a red University of Arizona sweatshirt with blue lettering and carrying an identification card belonging to someone else.
He approached a booth where Fuentes was working, in full CBP uniform, and gave him the card, he said.
“(Fuentes) pretended to scan the card through the card reader and allowed myself and the other person to enter the United States without inspection,” Gonzalez stated in his plea deal.
He also recounted meeting up with Fuentes in Rio Rico and paying him $6,000.
In July 2019, Gonzalez was sentenced to 25 months in prison.
Not an isolated incident
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the investigation into this case revealed that Fuentes had previously smuggled other unauthorized people into the United States for $4,000 per person, and that several were allegedly involved in drug trafficking.
At one point, the pre-sentencing memo says, Fuentes grew concerned that one of the people he had allowed into the country was notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, though he was assured that it wasn’t.
The prosecutor’s office also alleged that in October 2018, Fuentes made plans with the same person who arranged for him to smuggle Gonzalez to smuggle drugs through a port of entry. The two reportedly discussed various ways for a load vehicle to avoid being sent for an X-ray scan by non-corrupt CBP officers.
The discussion involved the possibility of smuggling meth or heroin in a United States-bound vehicle, but Fuentes at one point told his co-conspirator: “What matters to me, not what it’s bringing … as long as they are making me my bit of money.”
He also suggested wanting a bribe of about $20,000 to help get the load through, and said he wanted it soon because he had to “pay rent.”
The drug-smuggling incident never came to fruition and Fuentes was arrested on Oct. 24, 2018. Following his arrest, he allegedly contacted his co-conspirator so they could coordinate their stories and lie about the $6,000 payment for smuggling Gonzalez.
The co-conspirator is not named in any of the court documents and it is unclear if they were ever charged or arrested.
In noting his “flagrant corruption” and lobbying the judge to give Fuentes a stiff prison sentence, the U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote in its pre-sentencing memo:
“News of the court’s sentence in this case will likely spread quickly within the CBP and Border Patrol communities in Southern Arizona, including to the few agents and officers calculating the risks and benefits of selling their position to criminal organizations in Mexico. A sentence at the top of the guideline range would send a strong message that the risk of a substantial prison sentence far outweighs the financial benefits of corruption, and would therefore go a long way toward promoting general deterrence.”