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$311K in safe deposit box of Tucson Border Patrol agent accused of drug smuggling
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$311K in safe deposit box of Tucson Border Patrol agent accused of drug smuggling

A Border Patrol vehicle drives next to a section of the new 30-foot wall along the U.S.-Mexico border near a port of entry in San Luis.

After finding nearly $370,000 in cash at a house and vehicle owned by a former Border Patrol agent accused of smuggling drugs, federal agents found an additional $311,000 in a safe deposit box, according to documents filed in Tucson’s federal court.

Federal agents allegedly found the cash in the safe deposit box while executing a search warrant on Aug. 10, the day after Carlos Victor Passapera Pinott, 53, was arrested in suspicion of smuggling about 50 pounds of cocaine, heroin and fentanyl from a remote desert area near Lukeville, about 150 miles southwest of Tucson, to the Phoenix airport, according to court records.

Passapera transferred duffel bags containing the drugs to an unidentified co-conspirator in a parking lot at the airport on Aug. 9, a special agent with the FBI wrote in a criminal complaint. FBI agents say they found 46 pounds of cocaine and about 2 pounds each of heroin and fentanyl, along with 350,000 pills that have initially tested positive for fentanyl.

Federal agents executed search warrants the day of the arrest and allegedly found $329,000 in cash inside Passapera’s house in Buckeye and $40,000 in cash inside his SUV, according to the complaint.

The next day, FBI agents searched a safe deposit box that Passapera had leased since January and found $311,000 in cash, according to allegations made by the U.S. Attorney’s Office that were included in an Aug. 14 motion filed by Walter Gonçalves, Passapera’s court-appointed lawyer.

Between September 2019 and April 2020, Passapera and his wife also deposited $125,000 in cash into various bank accounts, according to court filings. They also made several large cash purchases. Passapera’s wife “regularly deposited bundles of $20 bills at the bank,” which Gonçalves said came from a settlement because of an accident.

Passapera resigned from the Border Patrol on Aug. 11 after 10 years with the agency, Gonçalves wrote. Passapera’s duties at the Border Patrol’s Ajo Station included monitoring surveillance cameras and directing agents on the ground to locations where illegal border activity was occurring.

An August, 2020, heatwave continued into a second week in Tucson and throughout Arizona. Tucson broke a record with a high temperature of 111-degrees. Most days bounce around from 106-109, with little monsoon rain to cool the afternoons. Video by Josh Galemore / Arizona Daily Star

Passapera declared bankruptcy in 2015 and reported a gross monthly income of $8,000, according to court filings.

While federal agents had Passapera under surveillance in May and June, Passapera did not show up for work at least 12 times, but he filed reports saying he actually did work those days. On “many other days,” he arrived home before the end of his shift, according to court filings.

A magistrate judge ordered Passapera detained pending his trial. Gonçalves argued that Passapera did not pose a flight risk and should be released from custody. As of Tuesday, no decision had been filed on the court docket and Passapera remained in custody.

Rodney Scott, the chief of the Border Patrol, posted a message on Aug. 11 on Twitter about Passapera’s arrest. Scott said everyone is innocent until proven guilty or they admit their crimes.

“I sleep well at night knowing 99% of you are just as hurt and angry as I am when you learn of criminal allegations against someone that took an oath and pinned on a badge,” Scott wrote.

“Any individual that knowingly and willfully tarnishes the badge by violating the same laws that we are sworn to uphold is the worst kind of criminal, because they betray the entire law enforcement community and the trust of those we serve,” Scott wrote.


An August, 2020, heatwave continued into a second week in Tucson and throughout Arizona. Tucson broke a record with a high temperature of 111-degrees. Most days bounce around from 106-109, with little monsoon rain to cool the afternoons. Video by Josh Galemore / Arizona Daily Star

Contact reporter Curt Prendergast at 573-4224 or cprendergast@tucson.com.


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