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Border Patrol agent pleads guilty in drug smuggling case

The border fence in Imperial Beach.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A U.S. Border Patrol agent pleaded guilty Thursday to smuggling backpacks he believed contained drugs across the border.

Appearing in a federal courtroom in San Diego, Noe Lopez pleaded guilty to attempted distribution of methamphetamine and attempted distribution of cocaine.

He faces a possible minimum sentence of 10 years for each of the two counts and a maximum penalty of life in federal prison.

His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Sept. 8 before U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw.

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Lopez, a 10-year Border Patrol veteran who worked out of the Imperial Beach station, was arrested Dec. 14 as a result of a two-month undercover sting.

According to court documents, Lopez struck up a friendship with a man he met at a party and later began communicating with through an online messaging app. During their conversations, Lopez bragged about how he could smuggle drugs left at strategic points along the border fence and told the man he would do it for a fee.

The man relayed this information to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and became a confidential source. He cooperated with authorities to help carry out two transactions with Lopez.

In October, Lopez took the man on a driving tour of the border fence to show the best locations where the drugs could be dropped, authorities said.

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About a month later, Lopez told the confidential source that he would accept $500 per kilogram of methamphetamine and $1,000 per kilogram of cocaine he helped pick up and deliver into the United States, according to the FBI.

On Dec. 6 and 8, Lopez agreed to pick up backpacks at sites along the border fence while on duty, according to the complaint. Undercover agents placed the backpacks — loaded with fake drugs — at the sites.

Lopez then picked them up, transported them in his personal vehicle, and delivered them to the source after work, authorities said.

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Littlefield writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

dana.littlefield@sduniontribune.com

Twitter: @danalittlefield

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