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06-10-06, 01:48 AM #1
San Diego border agent pleads not guilty in bribery case
SAN DIEGO A border agent pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of taking cash and cars to wave scores of illegal immigrants into the U.S. through the heavily trafficked San Diego-Tijuana border crossing just two days after another agent was charged in a similar case.
Richard Elizalda, 55, a 10-year border inspector with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was arraigned in federal court along with seven other defendants named in a 15-count indictment unsealed Thursday. All are permanent residents of the United States or U.S. citizens, prosecutors said.
Elizalda is charged with 11 counts, including bribery by a public official, conspiracy to bring in illegal aliens for financial gain and bringing in illegal aliens for financial gain. His co-defendants are charged with the same conspiracy count.
Elizalda was arrested Thursday in a raid on his home in Chula Vista, where agents seized $36,500 in cash and a 2000 Lexus and 2005 BMW given to him as gifts by smugglers, prosecutors said.
He was being held without bail. His newly appointed attorney Russell Babcock did not appear at the hearing and could not be reached for further comment.
Elizalda's case comes after another agent at a second port pleaded not guilty Wednesday to similar charges in an unrelated case.
A federal judge set bail at $750,000 Friday for Michael Anthony Gilliland, 44, a federal border agent accused of taking cash payments from smugglers. He faces charges that he aided and abetted the transport of illegal immigrants through the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.
Prosecutors said that Gilliland, a former Marine, worked with two female accomplices in San Diego to coordinate smuggling operations and deliberately failed to record vehicles that ferried immigrants through border lanes under his supervision.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Tokarz described Gilliland as a corrupt inspector.
Investigators found more than $500,000 cash in raids of Gilliland's house and those of two alleged accomplices, Tokarz said. In addition, $18,000 worth of Iraqi dinars were found in Gilliland's home.
Defense attorney Kerry Bader said that $24,000 found in Gilliland's home had come from a refinancing deal. She told the court that Gilliland's son, an active-duty Marine, has served two tours of duty in Iraq, but said she did not know where the dinars had come from.
Prosecutors said all the immigrants Gilliland is accused of allowing across the border are Mexican citizens.
Gilliland will face house arrest if he posts bail. He recently married a fellow border inspector, who was present at the hearing. She declined to comment on the case.
In both cases, the agents are alleged to have used a cell phone or other communication device to let drivers know which lanes they were monitoring.
Inspectors are routinely given short notice about postings as a procedural safeguard to prevent corruption, authorities said.
Stewart Roberts, an FBI assistant special agent in charge in San Diego, said Gilliland was paid $1,500 per alien and Elizalda got between $500 and $1,000 per smuggled immigrant.
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