A former Customs and Border Protection officer has pleaded guilty to conspiring to smuggle marijuana and accepting bribes to let loads through.
As part of the agreement, Johnny G. Acosta, 37, pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to import more than 2,200 pounds of marijuana between Sept. 13, 2010, and Sept. 30, 2013, and to accepting $1,820 in bribes as a public official to let a loaded van through between Sept. 1 and Oct. 9, 2012. If the federal judge accepts the agreement, Acosta faces between seven and eight years in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 12.
Acosta was stationed at the Douglas Port of Entry when he was arrested and indicted in April 2015. Initially, he pleaded not guilty to the 34 charges related to conspiracy to import, conspiracy to possess to distribute and possession with intent to distribute marijuana on different dates.
But on Oct. 8, a change of plea hearing was scheduled for Nov. 3.
He was out on a $50,000 bail and re-arrested on Oct. 21 as he tried to cross the border into Mexico through Nogales, the Douglas Dispatch reported. He was charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, but the government moved to dismiss it Tuesday. The change of plea hearing was before U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Ferraro.
Acosta, wearing an orange jumpsuit and shackled at the waist and feet, constantly looked back toward his family sitting on the front row.
The conspiracy to import marijuana carries a minimum 10-year prison sentence to life and a fine of up to $10 million, the judge told him.
The bribery charge carries up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Both also have mandatory supervised release requirements.
But under federal law, there is a safety valve that can apply to first-time, non-violent drug offenders whose cases didn’t involve guns, according to Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a national organization working to reform mandatory minimum sentencing laws for nonviolent offenses.
Acosta was indicted along with five others, including two whose names were redacted. The others are scheduled to stand trial next month.
“Corruption of CBP personnel far exceed, on a per capita basis, such arrests at other federal law enforcement agencies,” the Homeland Security Advisory Council said in a June 2015 report.
In its report, it recommended CBP add 350 full-time criminal investigators for internal affairs.
In January 2013, the Government Accountability Office also issued a report in which it found CBP needed to do more to prevent corruption.
From fiscal years 2005 to 2012, 144 Custom and Border Protection employees were arrested or indicted on corruption charges, the GAO reported, including for smuggling people and drugs. About 65 percent of those arrested or indicted were stationed along the Southwest border.