Welcome to my world...
My Border Patrol Career: Taking a Bribe!
As an agent assigned to the interior Border Patrol Station of Pasco, Washington, a huge amount of my time was dedicated to the Sunnyside Police Department. A never ending flow of aliens illegally in the United States passed through the doors of their jail. I put holds on hundreds of people that had been arrested for everything from violent felonies to traffic violations. It soon became a game; once an alien was arrested for some insignificant traffic violations such as No Valid Operator's License, they would hurriedly try to post bail and be released before I could interview them and place a much more significant Immigration hold.
The true story that follows was predicated by one of those significant holds. I have changed the names of the defendants but everything else is correct. Exhaustive notes about the case and, about my hesitations allowed me to recreate this incident.
I was in the booking room with two Sunnyside Jailers, Pete and Kevin, when their phone rang. "Bob, it's for you." Kevin said, handing me the phone. I received numerous phone calls wherever I went so this was no surprise.
"Hi. My name is Maria Lopez and I'm the spouse of Sergio Lopez who's in the jail..." Her voice indicated a female in her twenties to thirties. I recognized the name of the man she was inquiring about. I had placed a hold on him the night before.
"His bail is $5000." I commented without even looking at any paperwork. All of the bails were set at $5000 for basic immigration holds unless there were other circumstances that warranted a higher bail.
"Can we get this lowered?" She asked.
"Yeah, the Immigration Judge can lower it once he goes over to Seattle." I replied, still answering with responses I'd used dozens of times before.
There was a pause and then she hung up. I paid little attention to the phone call-it was one of so many I received. Then the phone rang again and again it was handed to me.
"Hi, this is Maria Lopez again." There was a heavy pause and I wondered if she was going to plead for her husband's release which happened fairly regularly.
"Is there any way that you could take $2000?" She asked.
"No, I can't lower the bond once it's set by Spokane." Kind of a lie for I automatically set the bonds and my superiors signed off on them, but generally we set them at $5000.
"No, uhm, could you take $2000 and remove the hold?"
"Like I said, I can't change the bonds."
"I could give you $2000, maybe more in cash. You know, just for you." Finally the light came on in my little brain. She was asking that I accept a $2000 bribe and release my hold. I laughed; this was a first.
I kept my voice professional and replied that I wouldn't do such a thing and then hung up. Looking over at the two jailers I commented, "Just got offered $2000 to dump one of my holds!" We joked about it but I knew I had to report the incident.
Wayne Reome was the acting Patrol Agent in Charge of Spokane and I called him and told him the circumstances. He took the information and called back shortly requesting a memorandum; that was expected.
I wrote a detailed memo on the incident and even got the ladies number from the caller ID of the PD. I had done my part.
It wasn't more than an hour later that I received a call via my car's radio from Spokane Sector asking me to stop at the nearest PD ASAP to use a phone.
"What's up?" I said to the border patrol dispatcher in Spokane.
"What number are you at?" The dispatcher was relatively stiff and I assumed someone in management was there.
I gave them the number and was told to wait there. Hmmm. In just a few minutes the phone rang and was immediately transferred to me.
"Bob, this is Marv." Marv was the assistant chief and a very amiable man.
"What's up, Marv?" I asked thinking that I was probably in trouble again.
"That memo you wrote on the bribe at Sunnyside got the attention of OIG. There flying in this afternoon and want to meet with you." My blood pressure jumped significantly.
"Marv, I did everything right." I argued thinking I was in trouble for even taking the call. The Officeof Inspector General contained the real headhunters who investigated corruption in every agency from the FBI to us lowly Border Patrol Agents.
"I know Bob. I think they want to set up the woman…" Marv attempted to calm me but it was a waste of effort as the OIG investigators were the head hunters who investigated major allegations in our agency. I could see my career, which was rocky already, plummeting downwards.
As soon as I hung up with Marv I immediately called my partner, Don Holguin, and informed him. He was reserved but supportive. He told me to call the union rep in Spokane. I did so.
"Look Bob, you have to cooperate with these guys. No choice in the matter." Wayne told me. He was right; we were obligated to work with them and cooperate fully. Great.
My mind raced. Why would two real investigators for OIG fly from Seattle to Spokane for a lowly $2000 bribe? It didn't make sense unless they thought I was already dirty and this was their opportunity to investigate me! I had done many things that I'm sure were worthy of investigation throughout my career but nothing actually criminal.
A few hours later, the two special agents with the Office of the Inspector General met with me. They were nice, both my age and clean cut, appearing just like anyone else, yet I knew that head hunters usually appear nice to get your guard down so they can screw you over.
"What we'd like for you to do, Bob." The dark haired and older special agent began. "Call up Maria from here. We'll tape the conversation and see if you can get her to offer the money again. You have to let her bring it up and she'll do it."
I was nervous as hell. First of all, I had two special agents from OIG in my office and now they wanted me to call a lady and almost solicit a bribe. But I didn't have a choice. As an agent with the Department of Justice I had to cooperate completely. I swallowed the bile that was begging to be spit out and, after a bit more coaching while they wired my office phone, I made the phone call.
"Maria?" I asked into the receiver when a voice answered with "Hola."
"I am the agent with the Border Patrol." I said nervously.
"Si, que quieres?" (what do you want?) She was still speaking Spanish.
I know she speaks English so I continued in it. "Did you come up with the money to bond out your husband?" I asked. "He will probably be transported to Seattle in the next couple of days."
"No. I don't have that much money. I can only get like $2000." There's was a long, pregnant pause as I didn't know what to say that wouldn't solicit the bribe. "Can I just give you this and you release your hold." A fist pumping from one of the special agents as he mouthed 'yes!' The other one signaled by his hands for me to keep going and mouthed "explain."
"You know that isn't enough for the bond." I was at a loss for words.
"Can I just give it to you; between me and you."
"What do you mean?" I asked hoping I hadn't already said too much.
"I'll meet you someplace and I'll give you the money, all cash."
The special agents and I had already worked out where we wanted to make the transfer of money. We would use the parking lot of a large supermarket in Sunnyside. I would switch to my personal car and then walk over to hers.
"When can we meet?" I asked, my nervousness playing perfectly into the act.
"Tonight. Can you come at eight?" The two agents gave a big thumbs up. It would still be light at that time and there would still be traffic but much of it would be cleared out. It gave us three hours to prep plus the drive time.
"Okay, I'm going to leave my work car and meet you in my civilian car, a blue Oldsmobile Cutlass."
"Yeah I know which one you drive." She replied much more confident than me. Suddenly I realized her confidence was because I was no different than her. She had offered the crime and I had accepted and was now a criminal.
I hung up the phone suddenly feeling sick. "I have to go to the bathroom," I said to the special agents. Both smiled knowingly; obviously I wasn't the first one whose nerves caused them problems.
When I came back they were packing up their stuff. "Great job, Bob. You did great!" The darker haired one stated and patted me reassuringly on the back. I almost let my guard down but realized I would say the same thing to a criminal that said he would cooperate.
"Meet us at the Grandview Police Department at seven sharp. We'll use that as our meeting place. We're going to wire you. Have you ever worn a wire?"
"No." I swallowed hard as the idea made me a bit nervous.
The two agents explained each detail that they expected. Hopefully the woman would be alone, I would walk over to her car and get in the front seat with her if at all possible. I would accept the money hoping to get her to again incriminate herself. The two agents would be videotaping everything and listening from the parking lot. Once I got the money I was to count it out loud and then walk back to my car and drive straight back to the Grandview PD. Everything seemed cut and dried.
"Will you arrest her once I drive away?" I asked curious as to whether we would have regular officers or other agents make the arrest.
"No. We'll let her walk. There's a grand jury in Yakima in less than two weeks and we'll get an indictment before arresting her."
Suddenly my stomach sunk. This lady would believe that I was a criminal for two weeks. What the hell! "But she'll think that I'm dirty." I said suddenly panicked.
"That's good. Maybe some of her buddies will call you up and we can get a couple more arrests out of this one incident."
"What about her husband?" I asked. "Do I remove the hold?"
"That's up to your agency. We don't care either way."
My stomach and my heart were now rearranged and I knew I was hyperventilating. This could easily ruin my career. Everyone that she talked with would think I was dirty. At that the police would probably think I was dirty.
And if I didn't release the hold, all of a sudden I would become a dirty cop who just reneged on his agreement, a very dangerous combination.
I wanted to say 'no' and walk away yet stoically I sat silently brooding in my own fears.
"We've got some calls to make and some prep to do with the US Attorney's Office. See you at seven!" The lighter haired and younger of the two smiled genuinely and continued, "It'll all work out fine." His voice trying to reassure but bouncing ineffectively off of my walls.
As soon as they left I went into Don's office and after closing his door told him the story. "Damn Bob, that's pretty awesome." He missed my point.
"Yeah but everyone in the lower valley will think I'm dirty. Plus if I don't release the hold on her husband, then my life will be in danger for I just took money as a dirty cop and then didn't follow through. That's a legitimate killing offense." And I was serious. Killing a cop is almost always a no-no yet killing a dirty cop that just ripped you off is much more justifiable in a criminal's mind. Great.
Don looked somewhat pensive for a moment and gave me the best advice, "Call Marv and see what he thinks."
I did. I respect Marv completely yet he was less than sympathetic to my worries. "We have to leave the hold on." He argued.
"But Marv, then I'm a dirty cop that just screwed over another criminal. Marv, it'll put my life in danger." I pleaded.
"Let me talk with Loretta and I'll get back with you." He still didn't seem overly concerned. Maybe I needed to plead more effectively but at least he was taking it up the chain to the Deputy Chief, Loretta Lopez-Mossman.
I quickly wrote an email to Marv and Loretta documenting my concerns. Putting something in writing is always better than trying to have them remember my qualms on the operation. The email was written and sent within minutes. Now I was documented.
I sat in Don's office afterwards trying to calm my nerves. I needed a drink, or a valuum or something equivalent but I would just have to 'suck it up' as Don said. It wasn't more than a few minutes before the phone rang. It was Marv.
"Bob, I spoke with Loretta and she's okay with letting the woman's husband go. We'll try to pick him up the same day they arrest the woman."
One bit of relief but I still had to go to Grandview and get wired, take a bribe and become effectively, just another criminal. Great.
At well before seven I showed up at the Grandview PD. Don arrived at about the same time-he didn't need to go but he was providing me moral support! The OIG Special Agents also arrived and after BSing with the Grandview PD and their dispatcher we moved to the Grandview court, closed the door behind us and began the process of wiring me.
The wire wasn't overly sophisticated mainly just a wire leading to a microphone taped to my chest and then a small pack taped to the small of my back. After testing the device they were sure it worked perfectly. "Show up a bit late, Bob, just a couple of minutes. We'll already be in place. If you happen to see us, don't look over. Everything will go smoothly, don't worry." The younger and blonder of the two special agents tried to reassure.
We went through the specifics again, them making sure that I understood to allow her to re-incriminate herself, make sure I counted the money out loud, make sure I went straight back to my car and straight back to the PD. So many specifics so that I couldn't get myself in trouble. Hmmm.
The two special agents soon departed leaving Don and I to chat. I mostly just paced. I wondered if I could actually pull this off. "You'll do fine, Bob." His words more reassuring than the special agents' had been.
At eight, straight up, I pulled my personal car into the parking lot. Sure enough I spotted her vehicle which was parked near the far edge of the parking lot. 'Perfect,' I thought. I parked a few spaces away from her. We hadn't discussed how close I should park. Actually we had really only discussed the basics.
I got out of my car wearing a long shirt that covered my gun. There was no one in the car except for her and a child! In the backseat was a car-seat with a child probably not more than two years old in it. Great. I was allowing the child's mother to commit a major felony. I wondered if the child was old enough to realize I was a cop, a dirty cop? Hmmm.
I opened her passenger car door and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I smiled, "Can I sit down?" I asked.
"Yes." The nervousness was now evident on her voice.
I couldn't look her in the eyes. Suddenly I felt dirty and slimy; I was a dirty cop. Great. "I have the money, here." She said and handed me an envelope.
"Is it all there?" I didn't know what else to say but took the envelope from her hand.
"Yes, two thousand. You can count it."
"No, that's alright." As soon as these words came out of my mouth I knew I screwed up. I'm sure the special agents that were listening to our conversation were wishing they could kick me.
"Will you release the hold on my husband tonight."
"Yes. As soon as I can get to a phone."
No small talk. I took her money and stepped out of the car. The dirty feeling didn't leave as I breathed deeply trying to walk confidently back to my vehicle. I didn't look back but I saw her drive by. I refused to look up. What a slimy feeling.
I drove straight back to the Grandview PD and waited in my car. When they pulled up behind me I finally exited my vehicle. I waited for the chastising but only received smiles from both special agents.
"Let's go inside and we'll debrief." We walked into the Grandview PD and again used their city court. I handed the envelope to the darker haired and more authoritative of the two although neither could be classified as anywhere near what I expected a head hunter to look like.
"Did you count it?" He asked taking the envelope.
"No, I screwed up." I replied knowing that I had potentially screwed the case up.
We sat down and the two agents counted the money. "Exactly two thousand!" the younger and blonder investigator said, somewhat relieved.
He looked up at me and with a grin said, "If there had been less, we would have had to have searched you and the car. You were out of our sight for a bit so that wouldn't have been a good thing." I smiled nervously. He was insinuating that if she had only given me $1500, because I didn't count it out-loud and didn't know for sure they would have to assume I had skimmed off $500! Yikes.
The debriefing was short and sweet. They reassured me that I had performed spectacularly but I doubted that. I was told they would indict the woman at the next grand jury and if I was approached by anyone to let them know and they would be here in a couple of hours or less. "You may be able to turn this into an extended gig if the word gets out that you are a dirty cop." The older investigator said and I just looked at him. Just what I wanted; to be thought of as a criminal for long term in my hometown. Great.
I had one more thing to do. I called the Border Patrol dispatch, all of whom I knew personally and spoke with on a daily basis.
"Hey could you send a teletype to Sunnyside PD and release my hold on Sergio Lopez." I paused for a moment and added. "Put the release authorized by the Deputy Chief."
A pause on the other end of the phone and then a suspicious acknowledgement came over the phone. "Okay Bob. I'll have to put authorized by her through you. Is that okay?"
"Yeah, that'll be fine."
I stayed away from the lower valley for a couple of weeks. I felt the paranoia of being a criminal that hasn't been cleared. I knew people were talking about me, looking at me with contempt. I hoped that her indictment would reduce my public guilt.
9/11 came soon after and whisked me away for months…