SAN DIEGO – U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer Jose Luis Cota pleaded guilty in federal court today to bribery and alien smuggling, admitting that he accepted cash and sexual favors from smugglers in exchange for permitting them to bring undocumented aliens into the United States without inspection through Cota’s lane at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
Miriam Juarez-Herrera and Gilberto Aguilar-Martinez, the two Mexican nationals working with Cota to commit these crimes, pleaded guilty last week.
Cota, a 15-year veteran with Customs and Border Protection, was arrested in September 2016 following an alien smuggling event with co-defendants Juarez-Herrera and Aguilar-Martinez. According to court documents, Cota confessed to his crimes at the time of his arrest.
According to his plea agreement, Cota pleaded guilty to four separate crimes – three counts of bringing in unlawful aliens for financial gain and one count of bribery of a public official. In his agreement, Cota admitted that from at least November 2015 through September 2016, he conspired with Juarez-Herrera to smuggle and transport unlawful aliens from Mexico into the United States for financial gain – charging as much as $15,000 per person.
Cota and Juarez-Herrera had an agreement that as part of the criminal enterprise, Juarez-Herrera would locate and recruit undocumented aliens in Mexico who wanted to be smuggled into the United States. These undocumented aliens would then be smuggled through Cota’s vehicle primary lane at the San Ysidro, California Port of Entry.
Cota also agreed with Juarez-Herrera to obtain the highest smuggling fee from the undocumented aliens and to obtain fraudulent entry documents for the smuggling enterprise. Finally, Cota received bribes from Juarez-Herrera in the form of cash and sexual favors in exchange for permitting Juarez-Herrera and the undocumented aliens whom she smuggled to enter the United States without inspection through Cota’s primary vehicle inspection lane at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. Between November 2015 and September 2016, Cota admitted that he allowed Juarez-Herrera to successfully smuggle at least ten undocumented aliens from Mexico into the United States.
After Juarez-Herrera successfully crossed the undocumented aliens into the United States, Cota received his bribes, according to court documents. Following one event, Cota admitted to receiving $13,000 in cash for allowing two undocumented aliens to illegally enter the United States through his inspection lane. Cota agreed that the government could prove that he deposited more than $44,000 in cash bribes into his bank accounts at the time he was under investigation. In addition, federal agents seized more than $17,000 in cash bribes from Cota’s residence following a lawfully executed search warrant in September 2016. Pursuant to the terms of his plea agreement, all of this cash will be forfeited to the United States.
A sentencing hearing for Cota has been scheduled for April 7, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller. Cota is currently out of custody on bond. Cota submitted a resignation letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection effective today.