A U.S. Border Patrol Agent pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges in federal court Thursday, admitting to smuggling drugs in exchange for cash while on duty.
Noe Lopez, 37, of Chula Vista, said he accepted cash bribes to transport methamphetamine and cocaine. He pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted distribution of drugs before U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw, according to the U.S Attorney's office.
"While there are a relatively small number of them, corrupt Border Patrol agents are a national security threat, and for that reason they are a very high prosecutorial priority," said Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson, in a statement.
Lopez said he agreed to transport backpacks containing six pounds of methamphetamine while on duty and deliver them to a source in exchange for thousands of dollars on Dec. 6, 2016.
He told the source where to place the backpack containing the drugs on the north side of the U.S.-Mexico border, confirmed the U.S. Attorney's office.
Undercover agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) placed a backpack with fake drugs near the planned location. Once Lopez picked up the backpack, he returned to the Border Patrol station and placed it in his personal car.
After he finished his shift, Lopez went to a parking lot in Chula Vista and gave the source the backpack containing what he believed to be six pounds of methamphetamine, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.
The source paid Lopez $3,000 for retrieving and delivering the fake drugs.
This situation was repeated on Dec. 8 with another backpack containing seven pounds of fake cocaine placed by the undercover DEA agents. On Dec. 9, Lopez was paid $7,000 for retrieving and delivering the bag of fake cocaine.
"We do not tolerate corruption within our ranks, and are grateful to the hard work of the Border Corruption Task Force and other agencies that rooted out Mr. Lopez’ atrocious behavior," said Chief Patrol Agent Richard A. Barlow of San Diego Sector Border Patrol in a statement.
“The U.S. Border Patrol stresses honor and integrity in every aspect of our mission; Honor First is our Motto,” added Barlow.
FBI Special Agent in Charge, Eric S. Birnbaum, said the FBI is doing everything they can to stop corrupt Border Agents in San Diego from besmirching the work of public servants.
"This type of corruption at our San Diego borders strikes at the heart of government and erodes public confidence, therefore, the investigation of public corruption is one of [the] FBI’s top criminal priorities," said Birnbaum, in a statement.
Lopez faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $10 million fine.