SAN DIEGO (AP) – A longtime U.S. border inspector was sentenced Monday to 7 1/2 years in prison for corruption after a jury convicted him of working with smugglers who brought drugs and people into country for nearly a decade.
Lorne Jones, 50, said he was resigned to the verdict after a two-week trial. He did not apologize but said he "surrendered."
"I'm ready to go on with my life," Jones said, pausing often during brief remarks to hold back tears.
Witnesses described a code system with pagers and text messages that Jones used from 2000 to 2009 to tell smugglers which San Diego border crossing lanes he was working in at what times.
Prosecutors said Jones allowed drugs and people to enter the country illegally while working inspection booths at the San Ysidro port of entry. They also said he kept his canine patrol away from drug-laden vehicles at the commercial truck area of the Otay Mesa port of entry.
During Monday's hearing, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff cast doubt on much of the prosecutors' arguments because they relied heavily on witnesses who were granted immunity or lighter sentences in exchange for cooperation. She noted repeatedly that one witness consumed cocaine the weekend before taking the stand.
Huff objected to a prosecutor's characterization that Jones sold his badge for profits, noting that the jury acquitted him of bribery.
Corruption cases rarely span such a long period, and the judge criticized the government for failing to act earlier. But she saved her final words for Jones, who became a San Diego border inspector in 1994 after rising to the rank of staff sergeant in the Marines.
"It's a puzzle to the court, with your military background and everything you were doing, how one could then associate with some of the people you elected to get involved with," Huff said in a courtroom packed with Jones' family, former colleagues and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in uniform.
Jones, known as "Hammer," received numerous letters of commendation for drug seizures during his career, including a five-ton haul of marijuana that was hidden inside a truck in March 2009. A port director who watched in court Monday wrote Jones in July 2009 to congratulate him on a 230-pound cocaine seizure.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy called the sentence a "reminder that we will not allow rogue officers to compromise national security and the public trust."
Jones, who was released on bond four months after his 2010 arrest, was ordered to report to prison May 2.
Corruption has emerged as a growing threat since Customs and Border Protection went on a hiring spree during the middle of the last decade. From October 2004 through September 2011, 132 agency officials were arrested or indicted for corrupt acts, according to the Homeland Security Department's inspector general.