FBI: Ariz. Border Patrol agent paid smugglers $650K for cocaine while on duty
Officials say the veteran agent kept the cocaine in his agency vehicle for the rest of his shift before turning it over to another smuggler
By Curt Prendergast
The Arizona Daily Star
TUCSON, Ariz. — A veteran Border Patrol agent handed over $650,000 to drug traffickers and picked up 90 pounds of cocaine during his late-night shifts at a remote border crossing in Southern Arizona, an FBI special agent wrote in a federal criminal complaint.
Ramon Antonio Monreal Rodriguez, a 32-year-old Vail resident who worked at the Border Patrol’s station in Three Points, is accused of conspiring to smuggle cocaine in Tucson and on the Tohono O’odham Reservation, federal court records show.
While on duty around 1:30 a.m. Sept. 18, Monreal picked up the cocaine from smugglers in a wash near the San Miguel Gate, a border crossing used by members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, and handed them the first payment of $334,000, the FBI special agent wrote. He kept the cocaine in his agency vehicle for the rest of his shift before turning it over to another smuggler. Four days later, he went back to the border while on duty and handed over $317,000 to the smugglers. Monreal’s payment was 6 pounds of narcotics and $66,000, the FBI special agent wrote.
Monreal, a 10-year veteran of the agency, resigned Sept. 25 after he was arrested by the FBI in a separate case in which a federal grand jury indictment alleged he hired two men to help him unlawfully buy firearms in Tucson.
Monreal was released from custody Oct. 23 on the firearms charge and arrested the same day on the drug-smuggling charge, court records show.
At an Oct. 25 hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge D. Thomas Ferraro ordered Monreal, who sat at the defense table in an orange prison jumpsuit and shackles, to remain in custody.
Ferraro said federal prosecutor Gordon Davenport had shown a “clear pattern of criminal conduct” by Monreal. He also pointed to threats Monreal allegedly made in recent months and his lack of candor about his financial assets and his property in Mexico.
“I can’t trust somebody who’s not honest with the court,” Ferraro said.
Elizabeth Lopez, an assistant federal public defender, had argued for Monreal’s release, saying he had no criminal record, no history of mental issues and no substance abuse problems. She also said he had extensive family ties, including four minor children, in Southern Arizona.
”Make her disappear”
While criminal charges against Monreal are limited to firearms violations and drug smuggling, federal prosecutors also said Monreal tried to arrange the assault of a corrections officer at a federal prison in Southern Arizona who was dating his ex-girlfriend, what Monreal called “a little tune-up” in audio messages recovered by investigators, court records show.
Monreal also asked a drug trafficker to hurt his ex-girlfriend, Davenport said at the Oct. 25 hearing.
“I need you to make her disappear,” Monreal wrote in a Spanish-language text message to his main drug-trafficking contact, according to a sworn affidavit filed by a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
The drug trafficker listed in court documents as “Compadre,” a term used in Mexico for a child’s godfather and as an informal greeting, cautioned Monreal to wait for a year, writing “Let things calm down and then we will do it.”
Backpack of cash
The first incident in the firearms investigation mentioned in court documents came when Cesar Enriquez Trejo, an alleged co-conspirator with Monreal, tried to buy two limited-edition Colt model Jaguar Azul .38 Super pistols for $10,000.
Enriquez showed up at a Tucson firearms dealer with a “backpack of cash” to buy the pistols on behalf of Monreal, an ATF agent wrote in an affidavit.
ATF agents tracked several firearms sales to Monreal through surveillance of Enriquez, firearms sales records, and video recordings at a convenience store where Monreal bought money orders that Enriquez signed, according to the affidavit. Monreal then used the money orders to buy the Colt pistols online and have Enriquez pick them up.
When ATF agents searched Monreal’s house on Sept. 25, they found $62,000 in cash in a cardboard box in the master bedroom. The cash was wrapped in black construction paper next to an electronic money counter. Agents also searched Monreal’s personal vehicle and found $3,900 in cash in the center compartment.
The week before the search of Monreal’s house, Compadre told Monreal to meet with a smuggler in Tucson on Sept. 17, the FBI special agent wrote in the complaint.
The purpose of the meeting was to pick up the initial payment for a large load of narcotics. Monreal took sick leave and picked up $334,000 in Tucson. Compadre sent Monreal a photograph of a ledger with an expected payment of $390,000 for the cocaine, with Monreal set to receive $56,000 for transporting it.
During his shift the next day, Sept. 18, Monreal drove to the San Miguel Gate around 1:30 a.m. and exchanged $334,000 for the 90 pounds of cocaine, the FBI special agent wrote.
On Sept. 20, Monreal told Compadre he had received the second payment for the cocaine. The next day, Compadre told Monreal to break down $336,000 into $5,000 packets so it could be more easily smuggled while in Mexico. Compadre also told Monreal to pay $8,200 to another conspirator.
During his Sept. 22 shift, Monreal made the second payment at the border of $317,000, the FBI special agent wrote.
“Stay on track”
At the Oct. 25 hearing, Albert Ortiz, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General testified that Monreal told Compadre about the capabilities of Border Patrol cameras and radios. At one point, Monreal ran a test with Compadre to make sure Compadre’s radio transmissions wouldn’t be picked up by agents.
When Monreal was driving to the San Miguel Gate with one of the bags of money he picked up in Tucson, he told Compadre he wanted to pull over suspicious vehicles he saw along the way.
“Compadre told him to stay on track and don’t worry about those vehicles,” Ortiz said.
Monreal and Compadre also discussed how to get a swing set into Mexico without paying customs duties, as part of Monreal’s plan to turn a property he owned in Mexico into a special events location, Ortiz said.
In one colorful anecdote, Ortiz said he heard an audio message between Monreal and Compadre as Monreal was driving through a Border Patrol checkpoint. Coming from Monreal’s car stereo, Ortiz could hear a Mexican song about easily slipping by Border Patrol agents at those very same checkpoints.
Monreal’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 6.