Pubdate: Sat, 07 Oct 2000
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Contact:  PO Box 120191, San Diego, CA, 92112-0191
Fax: (619) 293-1440
Author: Marisa Taylor, Staff Writer


Allowed Migrants, Pot To Cross Border

 From the beginning, Richard Lawrence Pineda, a veteran immigration 
inspector, denied working for a ring that smuggled immigrants and drugs.

When Pineda was arrested in a San Ysidro parking lot a year ago, he 
maintained his innocence to the FBI agent who searched and handcuffed him.

During his federal trial, Pineda took the stand to testify in his own defense.

Yesterday, his denials changed to an admission of guilt. Facing a lengthy 
prison sentence after a jury convicted him in April, Pineda said he finally 
was willing to admit wrongdoing.

Federal officials said the case was one of the most significant corruption 
cases in San Diego in recent years because of the large amounts of money, 
drugs and immigrants involved.

"All I can say now is that I am truly sorry for my misconduct," Pineda 
wrote to U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan. "I violated my oath to my 
country, my family, my colleagues and the public."

Pineda, 42, asked the judge to hand down the most lenient possible sentence 
and promised not to appeal.

His admission apparently swayed the judge. Whelan sentenced Pineda to 121/2 
years in prison -- three years less than recommended by prosecutors. The 
judge also denied the prosecutor's request that Pineda pay a $25,000 fine.

Whelan did order Pineda to pay about $19,500 to cover the fees of his 
appointed attorney.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service said yesterday it had started 
proceedings to fire Pineda.

Pineda left for prison without explaining how an immigration officer became 
a smuggler.

He described his childhood in his letter, saying he was raised by his 
mother in a low-income housing project in Florida. After serving in the 
Navy he joined the INS, for which he worked for 18 years.

"Up until this incident, I have lived a peaceful, productive and 
law-abiding life with my wife and children," he wrote. " . . . I loved my 
job, and for the rest of my life I will regret what I did and how I ruined 
my life."

His attorney, Clyde Munsell, said in court documents that Pineda was caught 
in a maelstrom of arrogance and self-denial.

He was "a man who had lied to himself, his family and this court," wrote 
Munsell, who declined to comment yesterday.

To prosecutors, Pineda's case is a story of blatant corruption.

At first, he allowed carloads of immigrants to go through his lane at the 
San Ysidro Port of Entry. During their investigation of Pineda, federal 
agents detained 23 undocumented immigrants who were driven through his lane.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Weiner said Pineda was paid as much as 
$1,000 per person.

In May 1998, the ring started smuggling loads of marijuana, paying Pineda 
$10,000 per load. Pineda waved through 3,500 pounds of marijuana in four 
loads, Weiner said.

Pineda found ways around INS corruption safeguards.

Inspectors' lane assignments usually are not posted until the beginning of 
the shift, so Pineda asked baggage handlers to telephone a Tijuana police 
officer, who has been accused of making the smuggling arrangements.

He also resorted to "flushing traffic" a term used by immigration officials 
to describe how inspectors wave cars through without questioning the 
occupants, according to court documents.

On July 22, 1998, when three cars filled with marijuana passed through 
Pineda's lane, he allowed 125 cars to go through in 26 minutes, the 
documents say.

He was seen several times collecting money in Mexico from the Tijuana 
police officer, Jose Saul Curley Dominguez, the prosecution contended.

The smugglers paid Pineda a total of $350,000, Weiner said. But in April, 
jurors concluded that prosecutors did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt 
how much Pineda was paid. As a result, federal officials cannot seize any 
of Pineda's assets.

Federal agents recently arrested Sergio Miller Loya, who pleaded guilty to 
supplying the ring with marijuana.

But Dominguez, a 15-year veteran of the Tijuana Municipal Police, remains 
an officer. Hugo Alberto Herrera Culebro, a Tijuana man accused of helping 
the ring, also remains at large.

FBI agents said they met with Mexican law enforcement officials in August 
1999 to give them a copy of the indictment translated into Spanish.

Local and federal officers in Tijuana said they did not know anything about it.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D