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Smugglers Tempted U.S. Border Inspector with Cash, Cars and Love

The smugglers who lured border inspector Richard Elizalda into helping them sneak illegal immigrants from Mexico into the United States showered him with cash bribes and luxury cars, but love proved to be the ultimate temptation.


On Monday, Elizalda was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison for allowing smugglers associated with a woman he loved to drive hundreds of migrants through his border inspection lane. 

Elizalda, who had already paid a $20,000 fine, also was sentenced to three years' probation.

"I know that I did something wrong," Elizalda told the court, his voice breaking. "I let my family down and I let the United States down - the people of the United States - and I'm sorry."

U.S. District Court Judge Larry A. Burns chastised Elizalda, a 10-year veteran of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, for doing "extraordinary things" to win the affections of an attractive and attentive woman who was also a smuggler.

"This is a terrible thing that you did," Burns said. "You're one of the gatekeepers of the safety and security of the United States and you abdicated that role."

Immediately remanded to custody, Elizalda sadly waved goodbye to a half-dozen family members.

Elizalda, 56, worked at the world's busiest border crossing, the San Ysidro Port of Entry between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego. A former Marine who served in Vietnam, he was arrested last June after a two-year investigation by the Border Corruption Task Force, a multi-agency team that probes claims against officers at border crossings in California.

Investigators placed wiretaps on Elizalda's phones after receiving tips that he was involved in suspicious activities. According to federal prosecutors, Elizalda sent text messages directing drivers to his inspection lane at the San Ysidro border crossing and then waved them through.

In return, Elizalda received as much as $1,000 for each immigrant, taking as much as $120,000 in cash from smugglers starting in 2004. Agents seized $36,170 in cash from Elizalda's home, along with a 2000 Lexus and a 2005 BMW given to him by the ringleaders of the smuggling ring.

He also was rewarded with love - or at least the appearance of it. Elizalda's attorney, Eugene Iredale, described his client as someone who, in the midst of a separation, "was lonely and able to be seduced" by Raquel Arin, a leader of the smuggling ring.

Arin pleaded guilty and was sentenced earlier this year to 30 months in prison.

In September, Elizalda pleaded guilty to one count of accepting bribes as a public official and two counts of bringing illegal aliens into the country for financial gain.

A driver for the ring, Kenneth Web, was also sentenced Monday to 36 months in prison and three years' probation for bringing as many as 99 immigrants into the country past Elizalda's inspection booth.

Customs and Border Protection has seen a number of corruption cases recently.

Last month, an inspector at another San Diego border crossing was sentenced to five years in federal prison for passing hundreds of illegal immigrants through his checkpoint booth in exchange for taking at least $70,000 from a smuggling ring.

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