A former Border Patrol agent was sentenced to more than 13 years in federal prison for cocaine smuggling and bribery.
Juan Pimentel, 48, pleaded guilty to trying to drive what he thought was 110 pounds of cocaine from Tucson to Chicago in November 2015 in exchange for $50,000. The “cocaine” was a dummy substance placed in four black suitcases by an undercover law enforcement officer.
Pimentel’s arrest by a state trooper on Interstate 10 in Marana came a decade after he began smuggling marijuana, Pimentel said at a sentencing hearing Friday in U.S. District Court in Tucson. At times, he would hide bundles of marijuana inside his Border Patrol vehicle.
Over the years, he worked for several different drug traffickers, Pimentel said in response to questions from defense lawyer Mark Williams.
Pimentel said he met the man who recruited him to smuggle the cocaine at a barber shop in Mexico. In the following months, Pimentel met the man twice a week at a supermarket in Rio Rico.
About six months before his arrest, the subject of smuggling cocaine came up, Pimentel said. He resisted at first, but eventually gave in. Pimentel met the man at a Walgreens in Tucson and the two drove to a hotel, where a hidden camera recorded their interaction. Pimentel then drove off in a rented SUV loaded with the fake cocaine.
Pimentel agreed to smuggle cocaine, rather than continuing to smuggle marijuana, after he felt pressured by the undercover officer, Williams said. He asked Judge Raner C. Collins to sentence Pimentel to four years in prison, noting Pimentel lost his job and his family had to leave Arizona and move to New York.
Federal prosecutor Gordon Davenport described Pimentel as “a guy who was continually working for the people his fellow Border Patrol agents were trying to stop.”
Davenport asked Collins to send Pimentel to prison for the maximum sentence of 180 months.
Collins sentenced Pimentel to 160 months for the smuggling charge and a charge of accepting a $1,500 bribe from drug traffickers as payment for providing information from a law enforcement database.
Pimentel received the bribe on Feb. 13, 2015, while his wife was in the car with him. The couple then went to Walmart, dinner and a movie to celebrate Valentine’s Day, Davenport said.
“When a date with your wife involves a little light corruption, you’ve made a serious mistake in your life. You’re not redeemable,” Davenport said.
Collins said Pimentel violated his oath as a Border Patrol agent four years after he joined the agency in 2001 and continued to do so until he was arrested.
Collins cast doubt on Williams’ assertion that Pimentel was pressured into smuggling cocaine, noting Pimentel changed the schedule for the smuggling attempt several times.
“You chose to smuggle drugs on a day that was convenient to you,” Collins said. “You had plenty of time to say cocaine was not my thing.”
More than a dozen uniformed Border Patrol attended the hearing in what Davenport said was a “training and deterrence” measure.
A charge of possessing a firearm during a drug crime was dismissed.