A Border Patrol agent in Douglas pleaded guilty to using his position to help smuggle thousands of pounds of marijuana.
Jose Antonio Yanez faces up to 15 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to two drug-smuggling charges and one bribery charge, according to a plea agreement filed April 10 in U.S. District Court in Tucson.
To make up for the loss of his “honest services” as an agent while working in Douglas and Naco, Yanez agreed to re-pay the Border Patrol his salary and other pay for the years 2014-2016, worth $340,000, according to the plea agreement. He also agreed to pay a $16,000 fine for the bribes he accepted.
As part of his role in the smuggling conspiracy, Yanez used his position as the operator of Border Patrol surveillance cameras in March 2014 to divert attention away from 18 people carrying 1,000 pounds of marijuana in backpacks. He was paid $250 per backpacker, according to the plea agreement.
In June 2015, Yanez admitted he “purposely vacated my area of responsibility so that vehicles laden with marijuana could cross the border,” according to the plea agreement.
He did not dispute that the government could prove the vehicles contained 9,000 pounds of marijuana. Yanez was paid $4,000 per vehicle, according to the plea agreement.
Driving vehicles loaded with thousands of pounds of marijuana across the border is not uncommon in Cochise County, as the Arizona Daily Star has reported. In “drive-throughs,” smugglers cut holes in the border fence, build ramps over the fence, or drive across the border in areas where there is little to no fencing.
Yanez also provided “law enforcement sensitive materials,” such as sensor locations, to smugglers in exchange for cash, according to the plea agreement. He also admitted to bringing anti-anxiety medication and pain-relieving medication from Mexico to Douglas “for delivery to another individual” in 2018 and 2019.
Yanez was ordered released on his own recognizance on April 10, the same day he was charged and pleaded guilty. He asked the court to allow him to work a pipeline construction job in Midland, Texas, while his case unfolds. Magistrate Judge D. Thomas Ferraro denied his request, court records show.
The Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector and Yanez’s defense lawyer did not immediately respond to inquiries from the Star.