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FBI charge California Border Patrol agent with drug trafficking, bribery

December 17, 2016  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
FBI charge California Border Patrol agent with drug trafficking, bribery

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On Wednesday, a Border Patrol agent assigned to the Imperial Beach station was placed under arrest after accusations surfaced that he picked up drug-filled backpacks for traffickers at the border fence in exchange for bribes.

Noe Lopez, who has been with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) for 10-years, was charged with attempted distribution of cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as receiving a bribe by a public official.

“The U.S. Border Patrol stresses honor and integrity in every aspect of its mission,” the Border Patrol announced in a statement on Thursday. “We do not tolerate misconduct on or off duty and will fully cooperate with all investigations of alleged unlawful conduct by our personnel.”

The 35-year-old suspect has been placed on unpaid leave.

The complaint details two situations in which Lopez picked up and delivered backpacks that were left for him at the border fence — which were transactions that were part of an undercover operation conducted by the FBI’s Border Corruption Task Force.

A confidential informant told law enforcement officials that the suspect befriended him in late October and started communicating with him via WhatsApp, according to a probable cause affidavit attached to the complaint, which was filed by FBI Special Agent Carla Croft.

Lopez told the source that he could assist in drug smuggling and offered to do so for a fee, the complaint revealed.

In a string of communications, Lopez reportedly described how he could pick up drug-laden backpacks at particular spots along the U.S.-Mexico fence while on duty and then he would proceed to deliver them to a safe location.

The border patrol agent showed the source two areas that he prefers on Google maps, one of which included a bridge near a water treatment facility, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Back in October, Lopez drove the source along the fence, and pointed out various drop-off spots, and then offered to help smuggle the drugs for approximately $1,000 to $2,000 per backpack.

The source, who was an informant, taped a conversation with Lopez on November 23rd in which the agent agreed to be paid $500 per pound of meth. Lopez then showed the source a black backpack as an illustration of what could be used.

Lopez then contacted the source on November 30th saying he was at Walmart buying bags, then met with him later on. They pair agreed on $1,000 per kilogram of cocaine, and Lopez concluded the meeting by providing the source with three backpacks.

According to NBC San Diego, the first pickup was scheduled to occur on December 6th. However, the suspect was on duty and called the source the day before to tell him the location was no longer a good drop-off spot.

Lopez nonetheless managed to switch posts with a female agent who was assigned near the bridge.

The source informed Lopez that there would be 6 pounds of methamphetamine in the bag.

Law enforcement officials left a backpack containing a substance that looked like meth at the designated spot and Lopez picked it up and put it in his patrol car.

After his shift had ended, Lopez met the informant in his Chevy Yukon at a strip mall and gave him the backpack.

The following day, the pair met at a restaurant in Chula Vista’s Eastlake neighborhood. Lopez was given $3,000 for his work, and he even offered to assist again the next day.

On December 8th, Lopez informed the source that he put a cola bottle on the fence to indicate where the drugs should be left. Agents once again left a backpack that Lopez believed was 7 kilos of cocaine. He, again, picked it up and delivered it, and he was paid $7,000 the next day.

During Lopez’s first appearance in San Diego federal court on Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Heyman contended that he should be detained because he posed a flight risk. A detention hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday to further discuss the matter.

An attorney was appointed by the judge to represent Lopez.

Lopez is the third federal agent to be apprehended on corruption allegations in the past few months.

On November 30th, Tyrone Duren, an agent with Homeland Security Investigations who quit last year amid an investigation against him, was taken into custody on suspicion of stealing drug money from traffickers and laundering the cash through banks and real estate transactions.

Back in September, Border Patrol agent Jose Luis Cota, was arrested on suspicions he allowed a woman to frequently smuggle illegal migrants through his lane at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, in exchange for sexual favors and cash bribes.

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