For the second time this week, a border inspector has been arrested and charged with waving smugglers into the country in exchange for bribes.

Customs and Border Protection Inspector Richard Elizalda, 55, of Chula Vista was arrested yesterday with seven other defendants on a grand jury indictment charging conspiracy, bribery and other crimes.

Authorities said smugglers bribed Elizalda with cash and a Lexus automobile to allow them to use his lane at the San Ysidro border crossing to bring illegal immigrants and marijuana into the country.
Another inspector was brought into San Diego federal court Wednesday on similar charges. Authorities said Michael Gilliland, 44, also of Chula Vista, accepted cash bribes from smugglers.

“These inspectors betrayed the trust of their countrymen,” said Stewart Roberts, the second highest-ranking agent at the San Diego FBI office.

He said Elizalda collected $500 to $700 for every immigrant he illegally allowed to enter the country and Gilliland charged $1,500 per smuggled alien.

“A tragedy has occurred here,” said Adele Fasano, who oversees Customs and Border Protection operations in San Diego. Both inspectors will be fired because of the charges, she said.

The inspectors were investigated by the Border Corruption Task Force over the past two years. Smugglers search for weaknesses among those guarding the border, whether it's drugs, money or sexual favors, authorities said.

Although Elizalda and Gilliland lived near each other in Chula Vista's Eastlake neighborhood, their activities are not related, authorities said, nor are they connected to the case of another border inspector, Michael Taylor, convicted in November 2004 of similar charges.

Elizalda and the other seven defendants are expected to be arraigned today.

Investigators found 26 million Iraqi dinars – worth about $18,000 – in Gilliland's home Tuesday. There's no indication he smuggled Iraqis, an official said, but how he got the money is under investigation.

Fasano said her agency takes steps to prevent corruption among inspectors at the busy border, she said. For instance, inspectors don't know what lane they'll be working until the last minute, and aren't allowed to have cell phones or other communication devices. Also, authorities said, other agents sometimes deal with cars coming from Mexico before they get to the inspection lanes or after they have passed.

These arrests will lead to a re-evaluation of operations at the border, Fasano said.