Pubdate: Fri, 13 May 2005
Source: Army Times (US)
Copyright: 2005 Army Times Publishing Company
Authors: David L. Teibel and Heidi Rowley, Tucscon (Ariz.) Citizen
Note: Art Rotstein of The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


TUCSON, Ariz. -- Federal agents expect more arrests of local, state and
federal government employees in connection with yesterday's guilty pleas
by 16 people, including several current and former soldiers, involved in
cocaine smuggling.

The Department of Justice said the 16 helped move more than 1,200
pounds of cocaine through Arizona and took more than $200,000 in bribes.

Federal authorities said the 16 worked for the former U.S. Immigration
and Naturalization Service, Arizona Army National Guard, Arizona
Department of Corrections, the Army, U.S. Bureau of Prisons and
Nogales Police Department. They are accused of escorting 1,232 pounds
of cocaine from Nogales and Tucson through law enforcement checkpoints
and on to Phoenix and Las Vegas over the past 3 1/2 years.

Jana D. Monroe, special agent in charge of the FBI in Arizona, said
the investigation is one of the largest, most widespread public
corruption investigations she knows of.

The Arizona Army National Guard could not be reached for

Six former state corrections officers have been charged in the cocaine
sting, DOC spokesman Bart Graves said. All six resigned during the
federal investigation.

Eleven of the 16 defendants pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court here
Thursday, each to a charge of conspiracy to commit bribery and
extortion, Noel L. Hillman, head of Justice's Public Integrity Section
in Washington, D.C., said yesterday in Tucson. The remaining five are
expected to enter guilty pleas to the same charges today or Monday.

All are expected to cooperate with agents in the investigation, and
their sentencings are delayed indefinitely based on that. None is in

The cocaine the 16 are accused of escorting, which had been seized by
FBI agents in other operations, has a wholesale value of $8.4 million,
Hillman said.

Hillman and Monroe said the FBI was tipped about an individual and set
up the fake trafficking organization in December 2001, The Associated
Press reported. 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, Hillman said, according
to the AP.

All the defendants escorted at least two cocaine shipments from places
such as Nogales and Tucson to destinations including Phoenix and Las
Vegas, Hillman said. Some escorted up to four shipments. The 16 are
accused of accepting a total of $222,000 in cash bribes to ensure the
cocaine passed through law enforcement checkpoints, he said.

To protect the cocaine shipments, officials said, defendants wore
their uniforms, carried their official identification and used
government vehicles. They also used their "color of authority" to
prevent police stops, searches and seizures of the cocaine as they
passed through road checkpoints staffed by the U.S. Border Patrol, the
Arizona Department of Public Safety and Nevada law enforcement officers.

In one instance, on Aug. 22, 2002, Hillman said, several of the
defendants in uniform drove three government vehicles, including two
Arizona Army National Guard Humvees, to a clandestine desert airstrip
near Benson. There they met with undercover FBI agents who arrived in
a twin-engine airplane. The defendants supervised the loading of some
132 pounds of cocaine from the plane into their vehicles and took it
to a resort hotel in Phoenix, where an FBI agent posing as a narcotics
trafficker paid them cash for it, Hillman said.

Each defendant faces a sentence ranging from probation to five years
in prison and a $250,000 fine, Hillman said.
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