Border inspector let illegal immigrants into U.S. |

Border inspector let illegal immigrants into U.S.

Allison Hoffman

SAN DIEGO (AP) – A former border inspector pleaded guilty Monday to guiding hundreds of illegal immigrants through his checkpoint booth in exchange for cash payments from a smuggling ring.

Michael Anthony Gilliland, a 44-year-old former Marine and agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for 16 years, admitted in federal district court to letting illegal immigrants through the Otay Mesa crossing in San Diego in exchange for bribes.

He will face up to 35 years in prison when he’s sentenced Jan. 12.

Gilliland appeared in court wearing jeans and a blue shirt. Before the hearing he held hands with his wife, Lorena Gilliland, also a Customs and Border Protection agent in Otay Mesa.

Gilliland took off his glasses and cried briefly before replying, “Yes, sir,” when U.S. District Court Judge John A. Houston asked for confirmation of his plea.

The charges stem from a January indictment accusing Gilliland and five others of coordinating smuggling operations and deliberately failing to record vehicles that ferried immigrants through border lanes under his supervision. He was arrested in June.

Four of the others also pleaded guilty Monday to charges related to the smuggling plot.

Prosecutor Stephen Tokarz said the sixth defendant had also reached a plea agreement and was expected to appear in court Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Gilliland had taken between $70,000 and $120,000 since 2004.

Wiretaps described in court documents recorded Gilliland, who worked the graveyard shift, speaking in code with two female accomplices about his schedule and how many immigrants would be coming through his lane.

Gilliland has been under house arrest, monitored by an electronic ankle bracelet, since posting $750,000 bond earlier this summer.

Customs and Border Protection has seen a number of corruption cases recently.

Earlier this month, another San Diego border inspector, Richard Elizalda, 55, admitted to one count of accepting bribes as a public official and two counts of bringing illegal aliens into the country for financial gain. Prosecutors said he sent text messages directing drivers to his inspection lane at the San Ysidro border crossing and then waved them through.

He faces up to 35 years in prison and $820,000 in fines.

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