A veteran inspector with U.S. Customs and Border Protection was arrested this afternoon at a U.S.-Mexico border crossing on bribery, drug trafficking and human smuggling charges, the U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego said.
Lorne Leslie Jones, 46, of Chula Vista, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and bringing in illegal aliens for financial gain, according to a criminal complaint unsealed today. He is also charged with aiding drug traffickers smuggle more than 9,300 pounds of marijuana into the country.
Jones, a former marine who became a U.S. Customs inspector in 1994, worked at San Diego-area border crossings in San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, where he’d been assigned as a canine officer since 2005, said assistant U.S. attorney Edward Weiner.
Federal agents with the Border Corruption Task Force in San Diego arrested Jones around 1:15 p.m. while he was on duty, FBI spokesman Darrell Foxworth said.
Agents allege that Lorne began to allow illegal immigrants pass through his inspection lane in San Ysidro starting in January 2000 and continuing into December 2009, according to the complaint. Illegal immigrants in Tijuana paid money to smugglers who had a code system to determine the day, time and lane number Jones was assigned to.
Witnesses told agents that Jones provided information about his duty schedule at Otay Mesa to traffickers seeking to drive truck-loads of marijuana into the country, according to the complaint. One truck driver told an agent he smuggled drugs on four occasions, each time passing about 10,000 pounds of marijuana before he was caught in May 2007 with a load of nearly 9,400 pounds of marijuana.
Two witnesses also told Brian Dennison, a special agent with the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general’s office, that they paid bribes to Jones that totaled more than $100,000.
Agents also allege that nearly 3,000 pounds of marijuana was supposed to go through Jones’ inspection lane at San Ysidro in June 2002 but was detected by a drug-sniffing dog.
Jones is the latest in a string of inspectors at the Otay Mesa border crossing who have been arrested on or convicted of corruption-related charges.
Last week another customs inspector in Calexico, Calif., about 117 miles east of San Diego, was arrested on drug smuggling charges while a former customs inspector at the Miami International Airport was sentenced to 14 years in prison for drug-trafficking offenses.
This week, the U.S. Senate passed legislation aimed at weeding out corrupt officers and agents. The bill, S. 3243, dubbed the Anti-Border Corruption Act, would require CBP to polygraph all prospective hires within two years of the law’s enactment and conduct background re-investigations of employees scheduled for such reviews. The bill now moves to the House.
The cost of the bill is estimated at $19 million for fiscal years 2011 through 2015, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s cost estimate of the bill. The agency gives polygraph exams to about 15 percent of new hires, but plans to increase to 40 percent in 2011. If passed, the bill would require the agency to initiate nearly 8,000 investigations within 180 days of the bill’s enactment to meet its requirements.
CBP expects to have a backlog of about 3,000 background re-investigations at the beginning of the 2011 fiscal year, according to the CBO. The backlog stood at 10,000 in March, James Tomsheck, CBP’s assistant commissioner for internal affairs, testified in March. The fiscal year starts Oct. 1.