Calexico INS Agent Held in Drug Case : Smuggling: Inspector allegedly took bribes from drug cartel to allow carloads of drugs to cross from Mexico into U.S.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Immigration and Naturalization Service inspector is in custody, charged with taking up to $250,000 in bribes and allowing at least 50 carloads of cocaine and marijuana to pass through his inspection lane at the Calexico port of entry, according to court records made available Thursday.

Ricardo Nunez Felix, 34, was arrested Feb. 11 at his El Centro home. He is being held without bail at the San Diego's Metropolitan Correctional Center, charged with importation of cocaine and with aiding and abetting a ring of Colombian drug smugglers. Prosecutors said he faces 10 years to life if convicted on all counts.

According to an affidavit signed by Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Al Armitage, Nunez confessed that he knowingly waved through carloads of drugs while working at the U.S.-Mexico border in Calexico. Court records show the drugs were smuggled between November, 1991, and January 29 of this year.

"Nunez further stated in writing that he had allowed 40-50 car loads of cocaine and marijuana . . . into the United States through his inspection zone and had received a total of $200,000 to $250,000 for his services," said the affidavit.

Armitage, who is stationed in San Diego, said in the affidavit that Nunez was working for a Colombian drug ring headed by Carlos Enrique Cervantes Degortari and Jesus Jimenez Esparza. Court records identified Ramon Pelayo Ruiz and Magdalena Pelayo Ruiz as Nunez's U.S. contacts with the ring. Cervantes and the others were arrested in January in a separate drug case in New Jersey.

Magdalena Pelayo told a DEA undercover agent last December that Nunez "was utilized by her organization to wave loads of cocaine through his inspection zone to avoid detection by law enforcement," Armitage's affidavit said.

Although Nunez confessed to allowing as many as 50 car loads of drugs to be smuggled into the United States, law enforcement sources familiar with the case said he is believed to have waved through as many as 100 carloads. These sources said Nunez had been allowing carloads of drugs into the country long before he was targeted for investigation in November.

Armitage's affidavit said Nunez admitted that he worked for Magdalena Pelayo Ruiz "for a two-year period beginning in 1990." In addition, DEA agents said Nunez made 201 telephone calls to Magdalena Pelayo between July, 1991 and this January, while Magdalena Pelayo made 39 phone calls to Nunez between July, 1991, and November, 1991.

On Feb. 8, three days before Nunez's arrest, DEA agents seized 3,500 pounds of cocaine hidden in four cars that Nunez had waved through his inspection lane, law enforcement sources said. The Feb. 8 seizure, however, is not listed in Armitage's affidavit.

Nunez, who has worked as an INS inspector for five years, was indicted by a San Diego federal grand jury last Friday. He is also expected to be indicted in New Jersey in another drug case.

Armitage's affidavit listed a Jan. 29 meeting at a Elizabeth, N.J., hotel involving a DEA undercover agent who met with Cervantes, Jimenez and other ring members. At the meeting, Cervantes allegedly told the agent that he could provide him "with security and import licenses so that cocaine could be transported from Colombia through Mexico to New Jersey without detection."

Cervantes, Jimenez, Madgalena and Ramon Pelayo and Martha Leticia Ruiz Charbono were arrested by the DEA immediately after the meeting.

Although the investigation and New Jersey arrests were conducted by the DEA, the FBI moved in on Feb. 11, arrested Nunez in El Centro and took over the case, law enforcement sources said. These sources said the FBI has tied Nunez to another ongoing FBI investigation.

FBI officials did not return phone calls Thursday.

Law enforcement sources familiar with the search of Nunez's house said FBI agents found $50,000 in cash and three new cars. INS spokesman Cliff Rogers said Nunez's base pay as an inspector was $28,000 a year, but he could have earned up to $45,000 annually with overtime.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
70°