July 15, 2008
HARLINGEN, Texas, July 15 (Reuters) – U.S. Border Patrol agent Reynaldo Zuniga was arrested last month lugging a bag of cocaine up from the Rio Grande, one of a growing number of law enforcement officers accused of taking bribes from drug gangs.
Former colleagues say Zuniga used to wait until agents in the south Texas town of Harlingen were distracted with paperwork, then slip down to the river and help smuggle in drugs from Mexico.
The increasing use of bribes by Mexican drug cartels to corrupt U.S. agents comes as Washington is sending $400 million to help Mexico’s army-led war on the trafficking gangs, whose brutal murders have surged to unprecedented levels.
“Zuniga was a good agent and a hard worker. I can’t understand why he would do this. We’re supposed to be protecting our borders,” said Border Patrol agent Daniel Doty, a former colleague.
Data on agents convicted of graft are not made public, but the U.S. government is probing hundreds of border corruption cases where a decade ago it saw a few dozen a year. The FBI-led Border Corruption Task Force says it is busier than ever.