California

California border agent tried smuggling backpacks of Mexican drugs. It was a setup

A U.S. Border Patrol vehicle patrols near the U.S-Mexico border on May 11, 2017 in San Diego, California. The border spans almost 2,000 miles from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean and is fenced for some 700 miles of its total length.
A U.S. Border Patrol vehicle patrols near the U.S-Mexico border on May 11, 2017 in San Diego, California. The border spans almost 2,000 miles from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean and is fenced for some 700 miles of its total length. Getty Images

A federal judge called the U.S. border patrol agent’s drug-smuggling escapades “the ultimate betrayal.”

Agent Noe Lopez, 38, met a person he thought was a drug trafficker at a house party in October 2016, according to court records. After meeting, the two started swapping text messages. And when they met up in person weeks later, Lopez boasted of his ability to smuggle narcotics from Mexico into the U.S. — even offering to help the person smuggle drugs for a fee, court records said.

But Lopez didn’t know he was talking to an FBI informant, and he’d go on to smuggle what he thought were backpacks full of methamphetamine and cocaine on the informant's behalf.

Lopez was sentenced to almost six years in prison for the drug smuggling in a San Diego court on Wednesday. The maximum penalty was life in prison and a $1 million fine, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California.

“This is a fitting sentence for a law enforcement agent who, instead of policing drug traffickers, joined them,” U.S. Attorney Adam L. Braverman said in a statement. “Noe Lopez will pay a high price for betraying his fellow agents and his badge.”

Lopez had pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted distribution of methamphetamine and cocaine last year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

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Noe Lopez, 38 Walmart surveillance video via U.S. Attorney's Office

“You held a position of trust,” U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw told Lopez in court, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. “This was the ultimate betrayal and breach of that trust. It is the antithesis of what you were supposed to be doing.”

Lopez, who had worked at the U.S. Border Patrol’s Imperial Beach Station, apologized to his family and to members of the Border Patrol. He was an agent for 10 years.

“It’s something I regret — I’m going to regret — the rest of my life,” Lopez said, according to the Union-Tribune.

Not realizing he was concocting a drug-smuggling plot with an FBI informant, Lopez detailed to the informant on Oct. 20, 2016, how he could grab drug-filled backpacks from the U.S.-Mexico border while he was on duty, and then ferry the drugs into informant's hands, court records said.

Lopez used Google Maps to point out two ideal locations to drop drug-filled backpacks along the international border for Lopez to pick up, court records said.

At border towns, cartel drug smugglers are only limited by their imagination, often hiding drugs in secret compartments within vehicles.

Lopez even drove the FBI informant along the border to scout locations. It was during that outing that Lopez told the informant his rate, according to court records: Between $1,000 to $2,000 for each smuggled backpack of hard narcotics.

A month later, Lopez and the informant met in person again — and Lopez agreed to accept $500 for each pound of meth he retrieved from backpacks at the border. Lopez took the informant to his GMC Yukon, where he showed off a “sample backpack” that could be used for the smuggling.

On Nov. 30, Lopez bought three backpacks at Walmart, and then met the man he thought was a drug trafficker to iron out their plans. They settled on a rate for the drug smuggling, court records said, and then Lopez handed over the backpacks to the informant.

A week later, the informant reached out to Lopez again: The drug smugglers were ready to make the drop, he said. Lopez traded assignments with another agent so he’d be in the right place to retrieve the drugs on Dec. 6.

That’s when undercover Drug Enforcement Agency officers left a 6-pound backpack along the border where Lopez was expecting it. Lopez picked up the backpack he thought contained meth using his Border Patrol vehicle, then moved the backpack to his personal car. After his shift, he drove to a Chula Vista, California, parking lot to give the drugs to the informant, court records said.

The next day, Lopez got his $3,000 payday — and then repeated the exercise on Dec. 8, this time picking up what he thought was a backpack stuffed with 7 kilograms of cocaine. A day later, he was paid $7,000 for picking up the cocaine, court records said.

Lopez said the place where he picked up the second batch of drugs was his favorite spot, according to prosecutors: “Honestly, the thing is that there aren’t — there aren’t any cameras. Nothing, nothing, nothing,” Lopez said in a recorded conversation.

When the informant suggested he was worried the courier hopping the fence to drop the drugs on the north side could get caught, Lopez tried to assuage his concerns by suggesting Lopez was the only person smugglers had to worry about, prosecutors said.

“That’s why I’m supposed to be there. There’s nobody — there are no cameras, there are no sensors,” Lopez said in a recorded meeting. “This area is perfect.”

Anticipating another drug bundle on Dec. 14, Lopez switched duty areas with a fellow agent again, prosecutors said.

The drugs were never dropped, and Lopez was arrested at his station.

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