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Ex-CBP officer sentenced for accepting money, sex favors for immigrant smuggling

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SAN DIEGO – A former U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer who accepted cash and sexual favors from smugglers in exchange for permitting them to bring immigrants into the United States without inspection through his lane at the San Ysidro Port of  Entry was sentenced Monday to five years in prison.

Jose Luis Cota, 51, was arrested in September following a smuggling event with married co-defendants Miriam Juarez-Herrera and Gilberto Aguilar- Martinez, both Mexican nationals.

Aguilar-Martinez, 32, pleaded guilty to bringing in immigrants for financial gain and was sentenced to three years in prison. His 32-year-old wife will be sentenced next month.

Cota — a 15-year veteran with Customs and Border Protection — pleaded guilty in January to three counts of bringing in immigrants for financial gain and one count of bribery of a public official.

Cota admitted that from at least November 2015 through September 2016 he conspired with Juarez-Herrera to smuggle and transport immigrants from Mexico into the United States for financial gain, charging as much as $15,000 per person.

In sentencing Cota, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller said Cota’s crimes “erode the confidence in our border security and tarnish the reputations of honest law enforcement officers.”

“It feeds the popular narrative that there is corruption in government at some levels. There is a spot of rot in government. When this happens, it affects us all,” Miller said.

Besides sentencing Cota to five years behind bars, Miller ordered that he forfeit two vehicles used in the smuggling operations and more than $63,000 in cash associated with the bribery and smuggling offenses.

Cota and Juarez-Herrera had an agreement that as part of the criminal enterprise, Juarez-Herrera would locate and recruit immigrants in Mexico who wanted to be smuggled into the United States.

The immigrants would then be smuggled through Cota’s vehicle lane at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

Cota also received bribes from Juarez-Herrera in the form of cash and sexual favors in exchange for permitting her and the immigrants to enter the United States from Mexico without inspection.