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Army officers and troops nabbed in drug sting

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FBI Nabs Troops, Officers in Drug Sting
May 12, 9:32 PM (ET)


TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Pretending to be cocaine traffickers, undercover FBI agents in Arizona snared 16 current and former law enforcement officers and U.S. soldiers who accepted more than $222,000 in bribes to help move the drugs past checkpoints, the government said Thursday.

Those charged include a former Immigration and Naturalization Service inspector, a former Army sergeant, a former federal prison guard, seven members of the Arizona Army National Guard, five members of the Arizona Department of Corrections and a police officer, officials said.

All 16 agreed to plead guilty to being part of a bribery and corruption conspiracy and were scheduled to enter pleas Thursday in federal court, said Noel Hillman, a Justice Department official.

Each faced a single conspiracy count carrying a maximum prison term of five years and a $250,000 fine, though all could be entitled to probation, Hillman said.

The defendants in the nearly 3 1/2-year-long sting were not arrested and agreed to cooperate with an investigation expected to bring more arrests and involve people from additional agencies, said Hillman and FBI Agent Jana D. Monroe, who is in charge of the bureau's operations in Arizona.

Hillman said the defendants drove cocaine shipments past checkpoints manned by the government while they wore official uniforms, carried identification and used official vehicles.

"Many individuals charged were sworn personnel having the task of protecting society and securing America's borders," Monroe said. "The importance of these tasks cannot be overstated and we cannot tolerate, nor can the American people afford, this type of corruption."

Hillman and Monroe said the FBI was tipped about an individual and set up the fake trafficking organization in December 2001. Military and police personnel then were lured with money to help distribute the cocaine or allow it to pass through checkpoints they were guarding, Hillman said.

Authorities engaged in an elaborate effort to determine that the defendants were predisposed to taking bribes, he said.

One defendant, John M. Castillo, 30, was on duty as an INS inspector at a border checkpoint in Nogales in April 2002 when he twice allowed a truck he believed was carrying at least 88 pounds of cocaine to enter the country without being inspected, Hillman said.

Castillo later sold INS documents to an undercover FBI agent that fraudulently provided for entry of undocumented immigrants into the United States, he said.

In another instance in 2002, several of those charged met an aircraft flown by undercover FBI agents that was carrying 132 pounds of cocaine at a remote desert airstrip, he added.

In full uniform, they supervised the loading of the cocaine into two military Humvees assigned to the National Guard and another government vehicle, then drove to a resort hotel in Phoenix - where another undercover agent posing as a trafficker paid them in cash, Hillman said.

The FBI used real cocaine seized in other operations, the officials said. The 16 suspects transported more than 1,230 pounds of cocaine, the officials said.

The cocaine, with a street value of nearly $18.5 million, never ultimately left FBI possession, officials said.


Associated Press Writer Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.


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