SAN DIEGO—A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer was arrested Thursday on alien-smuggling charges, the second member of the agency this week to be accused of working with Mexican-based groups to sneak illegal immigrants into the country.
Richard Elizalda, a nine-year veteran, waved through migrant-laden cars at his inspection lane at the San Ysidro Port of Entry for as much as $1,000 per illegal immigrant, according to U.S. authorities. He was arrested along with seven other suspected members of the ring, which authorities say tried to smuggle migrants into the U.S. on numerous occasions over the last two years.
This week’s cases, though unrelated, underline continuing corruption at the ports of entry despite efforts to curtail it. With traditional smuggling routes impeded by increased enforcement along one of the most heavily guarded areas of the border, traffickers are seeking other ways to get their loads across, authorities say.
“The amount of money is tempting for someone who is not an honest individual,” said FBI Special Agent Andrew P. Black, who supervises the Border Corruption Task Force.
Elizalda and the other accused border agent, Michael Gilliland, 44, manned inspection booths where officers are entrusted to ferret out drug and immigrant smugglers among the thousands of cars that cross daily from Tijuana. But when vehicles from their smuggling group came through their lanes, authorities said Elizalda and Gilliland would wave them through without inspecting them or asking for proof of citizenship.
Both men earn about $65,000 a year but showed signs of living beyond their means, authorities said. Elizalda drove a late model BMW and was given a Lexus by the smugglers, according to authorities and the 15-count indictment filed in federal court in San Diego. Gilliland lived in a five-bedroom home in an upscale suburb of San Diego, and a search of the home of his alleged partner turned up $500,000.
At Gilliland’s home, authorities found about $18,000 worth of Iraqi currency, authorities said. The source of the money was unknown, but authorities don’t believe he was involved with smuggling aliens from Iraq.
Gilliland’s attorney did not return a call seeking comment. Elizalda’s attorney could not be reached for comment.