Border of­fi­cer charged in plot

Los Angeles Times - - California - Richard Marosi re­port­ing from calex­ico, calif.

An in­spec­tor for U.S. Cus­toms and Border Pro­tec­tion was charged Fri­day with con­spir­ing to smug­gle co­caine and metham­phetamine through his in­spec­tion lane at the Cal­i­for­nia-Mex­ico border cross­ing in Calex­ico, fed­eral au­thor­i­ties said.

Os­car Os­baldo Or­tiz-Martinez, a two-year vet­eran, al­legedly ac­cepted $52,000 in bribes from in­for­mants and fed­eral agents pos­ing as drug traf­fick­ers in ex­change for al­low­ing what he be­lieved were drug-laden cars to pass through his lane with­out in­spec­tion.

Or­tiz-Martinez was ar­rested Thurs­day while re­ceiv­ing a bribe of $30,000 in a su­per­mar­ket park­ing lot in El Cen­tro, Calif., au­thor­i­ties said. Or­tiz-Martinez, 30, and an al­leged ac­com­plice, Vic­tor Manuel Silva, 30, are sched­uled for a de­ten­tion hear­ing Tues­day.

The case is the lat­est in a string of cor­rup­tion probes tar­get­ing U.S. Border Pa­trol agents and cus­toms in­spec­tors along the U.S.-Mex­ico border. Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties are concerned that Mex­i­can traf­fick­ing groups are ramp­ing up their ef­forts to in­fil­trate border agen­cies by pay­ing huge bribes.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion against Or­tiz-Martinez and Silva was trig­gered in Au­gust 2009. Au­thor­i­ties re­ceived a tip from an in­for­mant who said Silva had ap­proached him about a smug­gling scheme, say­ing he knew a cus­toms in­spec­tor, Or­tiz-Martinez, who would let drugs through for a fee of $120 per kilo.

Silva, be­liev­ing that the in­for­mant had ties to drug traf­fick­ing groups, told him that with a $1,000 ad­vance pay­ment, he “had the green light to cross what you want,” ac­cord­ing to the crim­i­nal com­plaint.

Or­tiz-Martinez al­legedly co­or­di­nated the two smug­gling at­tempts care­fully, pro­vid­ing his sched­ule to the in­for­mant so he could know in which lane he was work­ing. When the in­for­mant ar­rived at his booth on the first at­tempt in June, Or­tiz-Martinez al­legedly scanned his pass­port, grinned and let him through.

Or­tiz-Martinez and Silva had ap­par­ently known each other for years. Silva said he and Or­tiz once worked to­gether as guards at an im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity for Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment in El Cen­tro.

The case was han­dled by the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity’s Of­fice of the In­spec­tor Gen­eral and ICE. Pros­e­cu­tors said they will request at the hear­ing Tues­day that no bail be granted. richard.marosi@latimes.com

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