Posted on October 5, 2005

Inspector Convicted of Money Laundering

AP, Oct. 5

McALLEN — A senior U.S. Customs inspector pleaded guilty Tuesday to money laundering and conspiring to smuggle drugs from Mexico through his lane at an international bridge in South Texas, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Meanwhile in El Paso, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in a scheme to smuggle cocaine past a Border Patrol checkpoint.

Lizandro Martinez, a 44-year-old customs agent at the Progreso International Bridge, was paid to let a series of trucks — loaded with thousands of pounds of marijuana — pass through his lane without inspection for more than 2 1/2 years beginning in 2002.

The trucks then parked near a high school where the drugs were loaded to other vehicles for distribution throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

As part of a plea agreement, Martinez will resign and forfeit hundreds of thousands of dollars in vehicles and real estate bought with the laundered money.

Roberto Dominguez, 44, of Hildalgo, was also convicted Tuesday of similar charges and charges that he served as ring leader for the drug operation.

He drove a “lead vehicle” that ensured Martinez was at his post before the trucks tried to cross, the attorney’s office said.

The men will be sentenced Jan. 5 and face 10 years to life in prison on their drug-trafficking convictions and fines of up to $4 million. They also face up to 20 years in prison for their money-laundering convictions and other fines.

In El Paso, Robert Espino was sentenced. Espino, who manned a Border Patrol checkpoint in Sierra Blanca, admitted in May that he was paid more than $5,000 to let drugs pass through his station in September 2005. Federal investigators said he and three other former Border Patrol agents and two other men also were part of the drug operation.

Espino also was accused of conspiring with the others to allow at least 750 illegal immigrants to be smuggled through the checkpoint starting in January 2004.