Customs and Border Protection Officer Convicted of Illegal Immigrant Smuggling

Illegal Immigrant
Photo: John Gibbins/San Diego Union-Tribune

Jose Luis Cota, a former Customs and Border Protection officer, was convicted of three counts of alien smuggling across the border in exchange for money and sexual favors. He admitted to bringing in at least ten people at a price of $15,000 each. According to officials, he was a part of an operation of a small group of smugglers (including husband and wife Miriam Juarez Herrera and Gilberto Aguilar Martinez) who regularly took bribes from non-citizens to illegally enter the country.

As a result, U.S. district Judge Jeffery Miller sentenced Officer Cota to 5 years in prison. Cota was also ordered to hand over 2 cars and over $63,000 in cash that were gained from the operation. Cota has worked as a Border Protection officer for over 15 years and is among the several hundred officers who have participated in the smuggling of illegal immigrants across the U.S.- Mexican border. In fact, it is reported that since 2004 over 200 U.S. officers and agents have been arrested on similar corruption charges.

The operation reportedly began in late 2015, involving Officer Cota, Juarez, and Aguilar. Juarez’s role was to smuggle immigrants into her car, while Cota would wave them through. Aguilar would handle transportation matters for the immigrants after they crossed the border. Cota would also trade sexual favors with Juarez in addition to the monetary gains he received for the operation. Apparently, Cota had also been keeping account of the payments in a ledger, including the payment amounts and the dates they were received. The former officer and U.S. army veteran had a clean record prior – this event being his first offense.

Federal Law makes it a crime to smuggle non-citizens across the United States border. Under section 1324 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, it is illegal for a person who knowingly or in reckless disregard of the fact that the person lacks prior official authorization to enter or live in the U.S., to bring or attempt to bring that person into the country. Even if you didn’t receive any financial incentive to smuggle the person, you will still be convicted with a crime if found guilty. The penalties for this offense vary. Penalties under section 1324 can include:

  • a fine under Title 18 of the U.S. Code
  • a prison sentence that can last up to ten years, or
  • a combination of the two.

The punishment is elevated based on the number of people smuggled. Also, if a person is injured as a result of the crime, the smuggler can be sentenced up to 20 years in prison, whereas if someone dies as a result of the crime, the person can receive a life sentence.

Of course, repeat offenders will receive a harsher punishment. If it is the person’s third offense (or more) the sentence is increased and will range from 5-15 years. The person may also be ordered to forfeit the vehicle used to execute the crime, as well as any gains (whether it be monetary or in the form of possessions) that were a result of accomplishing the crime.  

If you or someone you know has been charged with the crime of alien smuggling, contact us 24 hours a day at (310) 448-1529 or visit us online to schedule a consultation. Our office is conveniently located in the Westside Towers in Los Angeles, within minutes of Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Westwood, and steps away from the Expo/ Bundy Station. We have flexible and weekend office hours, and we will visit you in jail to discuss your case.

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