A customs officer in Nogales who stole government credit cards to gas up his Mercedes-Benz was sentenced Monday to five years probation and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.
Juan Fernando Barajas pleaded guilty in March to a misdemeanor charge of theft of government property. Federal investigators said he stole 13 government fleet credit cards at the Nogales port of entry from April 2016 to November 2016 and used them to fuel his personal vehicles, according to his plea agreement filed in federal court in Tucson.
In addition to the fine, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo P. Velasco ordered Barajas to pay $2,386 in restitution to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Barajas worked for CBP from January 2003 to October 2017, when he resigned.
At his sentencing hearing Monday, Barajas apologized to the court and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for his actions.
“I’m truly sorry. I’m embarrassed. I’m ashamed for what I did,” Barajas said.
He said he was a law enforcement officer for 27 years and this was the only time he’d been written up or disciplined.
“I hope that you learn from this mistake and that you restart a new life. Good luck to you,” Velasco said.
At the time of his guilty plea, defense lawyer Matt McGuire said Barajas was an excellent law enforcement officer who made a mistake when he ran into unexpected financial trouble.
Barajas hid the theft by stealing one credit card at a time. When a card was discovered missing and CBP canceled it, he took the canceled card to the port of entry and switched it for another one, according to the plea agreement.
After the fraud was discovered, investigators retrieved video from gas stations and matched the vehicles being fueled to Barajas’ 2012 Mercedes-Benz SUV and Ford F-150 pickup truck, according to a December 2016 criminal complaint filed by an officer with CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
Law enforcement officers had Barajas under surveillance in September 2016 and filmed him fueling his Mercedes-Benz. They retrieved the receipt and it showed a CBP fleet fuel credit card was used to buy the gas, according to the complaint.