SAN DIEGO – A border inspector nicknamed "Hammer" pleaded not guilty to taking bribes to help vehicles loaded with illegal immigrants and tons of marijuana get through his lane.
Lorne Leslie Jones accepted more than $500,000 in bribes from January 2000 to December 2009 to allow illegal immigrants and drugs to cross into the United States from Mexico, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday.
During a brief court hearing, Jones also pleaded not guilty to lying to investigators. He was arrested Sept. 30 while on the job at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
Prosecutors are seeking criminal forfeiture of $500,000 from Jones, representing the bribes he received. A second forfeiture allegation seeks $60,000 for a failed attempt in May 2007 to smuggle in 9,397 pounds of marijuana hidden in a tractor trailer, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
The driver of that truck was arrested after he was directed away from Jones, who was assigned at the time to work with dogs who sniff vehicles as they approach inspection booths.
The driver told an investigator that he had successfully crossed four times at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry with 5 tons of marijuana in his truck each time.
Authorities also said Jones worked with an ex-wife and an unidentified investment adviser, both of whom are identified as unindicted coconspirators.
The indictment said Jones accepted payments between $10,000 and $20,000 per vehicle for allowing vehicles full of illegal immigrants to be smuggled into the U.S. The money was stuffed in paper bags or wrapped in cellophane at clandestine meetings in restaurants and strip malls, authorities said.
The indictment said Jones would inform the smuggling ring which lanes he was scheduled to work on certain days. The vehicles loaded with drugs or people would then go to those lanes and cross.
Jones, 46, of Chula Vista, has worked as a U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspector in San Diego since 1994. He was assigned to both the San Ysidro and Otay border crossings.
The Border Corruption Task Force, which investigates allegations of wrongdoing among border agencies, began investigating him late last year after a witness revealed that Jones was accepting bribes, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward C. Weiner.
CBP said 114 current or former employees were arrested or charged with corruption related to their jobs between October 2004 and August. There were 15 cases from October 2009 through August, 29 during the previous 12 months, and 21 the year before.
Information from: The San Diego Union-Tribune, http://www.signonsandiego.com