Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Corruption: Corrupt U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer Sentenced to More Than Seven Years

U.S. Attorney’s Office 
Southern District of California

Veteran U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer Lorne “Hammer” Jones was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff to seven and a half years in custody for his role in a decade-long crime spree in which he sold his badge to alien-smuggling groups and ultimately to marijuana transportation cells working for Mexican drug cartels. In court, the defendant acknowledged he has waived his right to appeal.

At today’s sentencing and during the December 2013 trial, federal prosecutors Andrew Schopler and W. Mark Conover described the scheme Jones employed to allow over 30,000 kilograms of drug cartel marijuana and multiple illegal aliens into the United States. Jones’ corruption began by first waving cars and vanloads of aliens and drugs through his lane at the San Ysidro port of entry, and later escalated to smuggling tractor-trailers jammed with marijuana through the commercial port at Otay Mesa.

Jones, an inspector since 1994, worked at both the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa border crossings and had been a canine officer since the 1990s. He was indicted by a federal grand jury and arrested at work in 2010, charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and to smuggle drugs and aliens.

A dozen witnesses testified that Jones was on the take, including Michael Taylor, a former colleague and friend who was also being paid by smugglers to corruptly allow contraband into the United States; Jones’ ex-wife, who recruited him to be a smuggler; a friend and financial adviser who testified that the two had discussed ways to hide ill-gotten gains, and who had personally used Jones to smuggle his girlfriend across the border twice; and several of Jones’ co-conspirators.

Prosecutors also presented evidence from a database that tracks information about people crossing the border—such as license plate numbers, names of those who were inspected and when, and by whom. During trial, prosecutors said the data proved that Jones allowed known load vehicles and drivers for drug trafficking organizations to pass though his lanes for years, without being inspected.

According to testimony, Jones volunteered to work overtime shifts as a primary inspector so he could wave through vans jammed with aliens and drugs, and trucks full of marijuana. Jones also employed a beeper code system to notify smugglers which one of the 24 inspection lanes he was working when their loads approached the border crossing. But the system failed in 2002 when Jones was randomly and unexpectedly reassigned to another position, and a load driver was forced to abandon his van full of drugs in the inspection line. In a second failure months later, a van stuffed with nearly three tons of marijuana was intercepted in the lane assigned to Jones just a few just car lengths away from him. While Jones’ furiously tried to “waved on” the cars in front of the load vehicle, the driver and passenger of the load vehicle jumped out of the van and attempted to escape from several inspectors who hurried over to apprehend them. Notably, Jones did not try to apprehend the smugglers; rather, as federal prosecutor W. Mark Conover said during closing argument, Jones was frozen “[s]itting in his booth, paralyzed with fear. His load was caught.” This marijuana seizure remains the largest ever at the San Ysidro port of entry.

“Lorne Jones allowed greed to destroy everything his badge represents,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “We hope this outcome serves as a reminder that we will not allow rogue officers to compromise national security and the public trust.”

Pete Flores, CBP Director of Field Operations in San Diego, said: “The actions that Lorne Jones has been convicted of tarnish the badge he wore, and I’m appreciative of the work done to bring him to justice. My CBP officers are hard-working professionals who are vigilant in their protection of the U.S. border and service of the traveling public. CBP does not tolerate corruption within our workforce and we will seek out and work to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any employees who commit unethical or unlawful acts that tarnish our badge.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Daphne Hearn commented, “When a law enforcement officer violates his oath to protect and serve the citizens of this nation, it undermines the public’s trust. When that happens, the FBI and our law enforcement partners at the Border Corruption Task Force are determined to restore the public’s confidence and trust by rooting out corruption at all levels of government.” The public can report alleged instances of corruption by calling the FBI hotline at 1-877-NO-BRIBE.

“I am pleased by today’s sentence,” said Dennis M. McGunagle, Special Agent in Charge of Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General. “The DHS OIG is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to identify and aggressively investigate allegations of corruption to protect our borders and the integrity of DHS personnel, programs, and operations.”

Criminal Case No. 10cr4141-H

  • Lorne Leslie Jones, aka “Hammer”
  • Age: 50 
  • Chula Vista, CA
Summary of Charges
  • Conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371
  • Attempted importation of marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation, Border Corruption Task Force
  • Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General
  • Customs and Border Protection, Office of Field Operations