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Border Patrol agent caught in drug-smuggling sting gets prison

For 10 years, Noe Lopez wore the olive green uniform of a Border Patrol agent.

On Wednesday, the olive green he wore in a San Diego courtroom was markedly different. It was that of a federal inmate.

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"You held a position of trust," U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw said to Lopez. "This was the ultimate betrayal and breach of that trust."

That betrayal played out at the end of 2016, when the agent coordinated the delivery of bundles of drugs along remote sections of the U.S.-Mexico border and then picked up the contraband while on duty.

"It is the antithesis of what you were supposed to be doing," Sabraw said.

The judge then sentenced him to nearly six years in prison.

Lopez apologized to his family and his former Border Patrol colleagues, sitting on opposite sides of the courtroom.

"It's something I regret — I'm going to regret — the rest of my life," Lopez said.

The case began in October 2016, when Lopez met a man at a party in San Ysidro. Prosecutors said Lopez had bragged about his prior success in bringing backpacks filled with drugs from the border fence — a claim that Lopez has since denied.

Several days later, Lopez drove the man back and forth along the border fence, pointing out areas that weren't closely monitored. Lopez offered to smuggle drugs for a fee of $1,000 to $2,000 per unit, according to prosecutors.

The man was, in fact, working as a confidential informant for law enforcement and days later told the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration of Lopez's offer.

Authorities set up a sting, with the informant pretending to have ties to drug traffickers in Mexico and asking for Lopez to use his position in the Border Patrol to help smuggle drugs.

Lopez and the informant discussed the logistics at a Chula Vista restaurant, and later Lopez went out to buy backpacks for the drug deliveries — items that were mentioned in code as "piñatas" and "candy."

On Dec. 6, 2016, Lopez picked up a backpack at the fence containing what he thought was six pounds of methamphetamine. After his shift, he met the informant and handed off the backpack. He was paid $3,000 the next day.

They immediately started planning the next transaction — seven kilograms of cocaine.

Lopez later marked the drop-off spot with a soft drink bottle and sent the informant two photos of the location; on Dec. 8 he picked up another backpack left at the fence.

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He was paid $7,000 that time.

On Dec. 14, 2016, after Lopez had switched areas with another agent in preparation for a third delivery, authorities moved in and arrested him at the Border Patrol station.

He pleaded guilty in June to attempted distribution of methamphetamine and cocaine.

Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune

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