Customs & Border Protection officer conspired with brother-in-law, others to allow drugs through Port of Entry from 2010-2013, but no indictments until 2015
home of officer’s mother-in-law used as stash house
DOUGLAS – With four of six defendants now sentenced for their role in a marijuana smuggling operation that involved a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer, documents released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office highlight how the years-long scheme worked. In the meantime, the two remaining defendants have not been arrested, but some identifying information about them is noted in court records.
According to the documents, federal authorities started investigating CBP officer Johnny G. Acosta after receiving a tip in August 2010 that Acosta allowed his brother-in-law Andres “Larry” Rodriquez to bring marijuana through the Douglas Port of Entry (POE). Acosta’s job as a lane inspector allowed him to pass drug vehicles into the United States undetected.
The tip was confirmed and the subsequent criminal case put together, noted assistant U.S. attorney Wallace Kleindienst, “due to diligent and resourceful law enforcement work.” Involved in the effort was the Cochise Border Corruption Task Force, which included the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, CBP Internal Affairs, the Homeland Security Investigations unit, and the Douglas Police Dept.
The six co-conspirators were eventuallyindicted by a federal grand juryin April 2015 for smuggling activities that occurred September 2010 to September 2013. During that period, authorities claim Acosta allowed at least 16 van loads of marijuana into the United States, although Kleindienst noted “undoubtedly, there were more loads that got through that remain unaccounted for.” Court records also show more than $73,000 in unexplained cash deposits into Acosta’s bank account during the same period.
Federal agents arrested Acosta at the Douglas POE on April 27, 2015 while he was on-duty. Three other co-defendants were arrested around the same time. It is unclear from the documents why authorities did not indict the smugglers sooner or take action to shut down the operation earlier. The documents also do not disclose how much of the marijuana made it to market.
Home of officer’s mother-in-law used as stash house
At the time of the 2010 tip, Acosta was married to Elizabeth Rodriquez, the sister of co-defendant Andres Rodriquez. According to Kleindienst, Andres Rodriquez was present in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico when the vans were prepared and was “instrumental in the timing of the departure of the load vans.” Those vans then crossed the border at the Douglas POE while Acosta was working.
Scouts would drive through Acosta’s inspection lane to assure “that it was safe” for a drug vanfurther back in the lane to come through. Once in Arizona, the vans were driven to various Douglas locations that served as depots until the marijuana could be moved out of the area.
One such depot – or “stash house” – was the home of Rodiquez’s mother, who was Acosta’s mother in law. However, after a 2012 raid of the mother’s home, Kleindienst noted Rodriquez “became too hot for the (organization) to continue to use him.”
The drug loads coming through Douglas were described in the documents as “significant,” with one van that was intercepted by authorities containing nearly 1300 pounds of marijuana. Some of the vans were driven by co-defendant Jorge “Polo” Alberto Tovar who admitted receiving $3000 for each load he drove. Another co-defendant Ricardo “Foco” Peralta-Cuevas acted as a paid scout and would also pick up the drivers once the vans were dropped off in Douglas.
Rodriquez, Tovar, and Peralta-Cuevas pleaded guilty after negotiating plea deals with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Their prison sentences ranged from 30 to 48 months.
The other two co-defendants are identified as Arnoldo Rendon-Curiel and someone who goes by the nicknames Tilingo and Chaparro. The court documents do not specific what role they played in the conspiracy but one has been indicted on the same 34 counts as Acosta. Additional information about their involvement will be released once they are arrested.
CBP Officer “betrayed the public trust for greed”
Acosta and Elizabeth Rodriquez, who married in 2004, were divorced in 2014. Later that year he married Gloria Rascon Servin of Agua Prieta. After his arrest, Acosta was released from custody on a $50,000 appearance bond secured by the house he and Gloria owned in Douglas. However, Acosta violated the conditions of his bond on October 20, 2015 by attempting to enter Mexico. He wasarrested in Nogales by federal authoritiesand held in the custody of U.S. Marshals until his sentencing.
Acosta pleaded guilty November 3, 2015 as part of a negotiated plea bargain between his attorney Edward Laber and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In hissigned agreement, Acosta admittedbeing part of a conspiracy to unlawfully import more than 1000 kilograms (2200 pounds) of marijuana in to the United States. He also pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in his official capacity in excess of $70,000.
Under federal drug laws, Acosta faced a mandatory sentence of at least ten years, while the U.S. Probation Office recommended a 14 year sentence. However, the U.S. Attorney’s Office requested a shorter sentence, noting that althoughAcosta was “no doubt an indispensable element of the conspiracy,” he was also “just a role player”who was not involved in supervising the smuggling operation.
On February 17, 2016 U.S. District Court judge Cynthia Jorgenson sentenced Acosta to eight years in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He is currently incarcerated at the low-security Terminal Island correctional institution in Los Angeles County. His expected release date is October 7, 2022.
Following Acosta’s sentencing, John S. Leonardo, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, stated that Acosta “broke the public trust by succumbing to greed. Corrupt officials like Acosta degrade the public’s faith that their government employees will faithfully execute the laws of the United States.”
Contact reporter Terri Jo Neff at 520-508-3660 and firstname.lastname@example.org