Former San Diego CBP Officer Convicted of Taking Bribes to Let Drugs, Illegal Immigrants Into US

Rachel Acenas
By Rachel Acenas
June 13, 2024US News
Former San Diego CBP Officer Convicted of Taking Bribes to Let Drugs, Illegal Immigrants Into US
The San Ysidro port of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border is seen from Tijuana, Mexico, on Nov. 16, 2018. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

A former Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer has been found guilty of receiving bribes to allow vehicles carrying drugs and illegal immigrants to pass through the southern border into the U.S.

Leonard Darnell George, 41, was convicted on Monday by a federal jury in San Diego on one felony count each of receiving a bribe as a public official and conspiring to import methamphetamine and two counts of conspiring to bring undocumented migrants to the U.S. for financial gain. He was acquitted of a fifth count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

Prosecutors said that the defendant was associated with 19 crossings at the San Ysidro Port of Entry over a six-month period.
Text messages shown to the jury revealed that he charged $17,000 for one vehicle to pass, $34,000 for two vehicles, $51,000 for three vehicles and $65,000 for four vehicles. In June 2022, the defendant received a $68,000 bribe payment for letting four drug-laden vehicles pass through his lane.

“With this verdict, the jury sent a clear message to anyone considering trading in their badge for cash,” U.S. Attorney Tara K. McGrath said in a statement. “Abandoning the integrity of the uniform for the conspiracy of drug trafficking is a path to a criminal conviction.”

Mr. George previously worked for a private prison company in San Diego before joining the CBP in 2018.

His scheme first began in late 2021 when he befriended two members of a drug trafficking organization while assigned to the primary inspection booth at the port of entry, according to prosecutors.

Following that interaction, he started accepting cash from drug traffickers to let vehicles pass through his lane when he was on duty. He purposely did not conduct proper inspections of those vehicles or request proper identification, prosecutors said. He kept in constant communication with drug associates and informed them what time he was working and what lane he was assigned to.

In a February 2022 incident, law enforcement agents at the San Ysidro port of entry flagged a suspected vehicle that entered Mr. George’s lane. He was forced to send that vehicle to another lane for a secondary inspection, which revealed that it was smuggling more than 220 pounds of methamphetamine. But the defendant allowed a second, drug-laden vehicle that was traveling right behind the flagged vehicle to pass through.

In exchange for allowing that vehicle to cross the port of entry, the drug traffickers gave him a $13,000 bribe payment, according to text messages between the defendant and associates. Mr. George purchased a Cadillac that same day for an associate of the drug trafficking organization. He even traveled to Ensenada to deliver the gift himself, according to prosecutors.

The defendant was paid between a total of $300,000 and $400,000 during his scheme as a CBP officer, prosecutors estimated. He used the bribe money to buy luxury goods, according to testimony from witnesses during the trial. On his days off from work, Mr. George would travel to Tijuana and visit the Hong Kong Gentlemen’s club where he would “shower” dancers with money. He also purchased gifts for those dancers, according to prosecutors.

Members of the drug trafficking organizations eventually gave Mr. George the nickname “The Goalie.” One drug associate even snapped a selfie while wearing the defendant’s official CBP uniform jacket. That photograph, which was admitted into evidence for trial, further revealed his close relationship with drug smugglers.

“CBP does not tolerate misconduct within its ranks,” Special Agent in Charge Elizabeth Cervantes of CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility of the San Diego Field Office said in a statement. “The Office of Professional Responsibility’s efforts in this case and this latest court decision are a testament to CBP’s commitment to preserving the honor of its overwhelmingly professional workforce, and to its core values of vigilance, integrity, and service to country.”

Mr. George is set to be sentenced in September.

Several alleged co-conspirators have pleaded guilty in the case prior to his trial.