Border Patrol Agent Michael Anthony Gilliland Received Five Years in Prison for Bribery (sentenced Feb 2007)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer Michael Gilliland is seen in surveillance video in 2006 waving cars through his lane at a border crossing in San Diego.  He was arrested hours later.

Free Republic: CA:  Second border agent held on bribery charges (CBP Chula Vista) (June 8 2006)

Another inspector was brought into San Diego federal court Wednesday on similar charges. Authorities said Michael Gilliland, 44, of Chula Vista, accepted cash bribes from smugglers  …  Both inspectors will be fired because of the charges, she said. The inspectors were investigated by the Border Corruption Task Force over the past two years. (San Diego Union-Tribune via Free Republic)

USA Today:  Cash, cars, jewelry: Some corruption cases involving immigration officers (Sept 24 2006)

Mike Gilliland, a Customs employee since 1990, was indicted in June on charges of taking bribes to allow illegal immigrants through his inspection lane at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in California. Gilliland is accused of conspiring with two female smugglers to permit passage of caravans of cars, each sometimes packed with 10 or more migrants. According to court documents, wiretaps captured Gilliland making arrangements with the smugglers about what time to cross and which lane to use, using coded language. The smugglers allegedly used their deal with the inspector to promise clients “guaranteed” entry. One arrested driver told agents the smugglers who hired her had “a business arrangement” with an inspector who “has a beard, and is probably 45 years or older,” an affidavit said. Gilliland is 44 years old with a beard, it added. A trial date is pending.

Free Republic:  San Diego border inspector let illegal immigrants into U.S.(pleads guilty, faces 35 yrs,$820K fine) (Sept 25 2006)

Michael Anthony Gilliland, a 44-year-old former Marine and agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for 16 years, admitted in federal district court to letting illegal immigrants through the Otay Mesa crossing in San Diego in exchange for bribes  …  The charges stem from a January indictment accusing Gilliland and five others of coordinating smuggling operations and deliberately failing to record vehicles that ferried immigrants through border lanes under his supervision. He was arrested in June  …  Prosecutors said Gilliland had taken between $70,000 and $120,000 since 2004.  Wiretaps described in court documents recorded Gilliland, who worked the graveyard shift, speaking in code with two female accomplices about his schedule and how many immigrants would be coming through his lane.  (AP/Riverside Press Enterprise via Free Republic)

L.A. Times:  Border Inspector Admits Aiding Illegal Migrants (Sept 26 2006)

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer admitted Monday to helping smuggle hundreds of illegal immigrants through his vehicle lane at the Otay Mesa port of entry.  As part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Michael Gilliland, 44, pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy, bribery and immigrant smuggling  …  The veteran inspector received $70,000 to $120,000 from two human smuggling groups for waving through migrant-laden cars without inspection, prosecutors said.

Voice of San Diego:  As Border Gains Attention, So Does Agent Corruption  (Oct 9 2006)

Two days earlier, on June 30, Michael Gilliland, a U.S Customs and Border Protection officer who spent more than a decade scrutinizing individuals and vehicles at the Otay Mesa border crossing, was taken into custody at work. Gilliland was charged with smuggling illegal aliens for financial gain and bribery, among other crimes  …  Investigators believe that during the course of their two-year investigations, Gilliland and Elizalda, who have both pleaded guilty, each made between $70,000 and $120,000 by allowing hundreds of people to illegally enter the United States.

U.S. Attorney Press Release:  Gilliland (Feb 15 2007)

United States Attorney Carol C. Lam announced that Michael Anthony Gilliland (“Gilliland”) was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in San Diego by the Honorable John A. Houston to serve 60 months in custody, followed by three years of supervised release, and a $200,000 fine, based on his conviction on September 25, 2006, of Conspiracy to Bring in Illegal Aliens for Financial Gain, Bringing in Illegal Aliens for Financial Gain, and Bribery by a Public Official. Gilliland pleaded guilty to those charges on September 25, 2006.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Tokarz, who is prosecuting the case, Gilliland was employed as a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. According to court records, agents with the Border Corruption Task Force intercepted telephone calls, pursuant to a lawful court order, where Gilliland discussed specific alien smuggling plans with co-defendants Aurora Torres Lopez (“Torres”) and Marina Perez De Garcia (“Garcia”), who also have entered guilty pleas to related immigration charges. Agents also surveilled Gilliland admitting vehicles containing illegal aliens into the United States. Agents executed search warrants following the arrests of the three defendants on June 6, 2006, and found approximately $457,900 in U.S. currency at Torres’ house, $57,328 at Garcia’s house, and $5,700 at Gilliland’s house. Garcia was sentenced on December 15, 2006, to 41 months custody and three years supervised release. Torres is scheduled to be sentenced on February 22, 2007. The three remaining co-defendants, Patricia Santamaria, Salvador Zuniga-Torres, and Rosalba Raygoza-Romero have also been sentenced to serve 36 months, 18 months, and 21 months in custody, respectively.

In his plea agreement, Gilliland admitted to accepting between $70,000 and $120,000 in United States currency and other benefits from members of alien smuggling organizations operated by co-defendants Torres and Garcia in exchange for failing to enforce, and for violating, the immigration laws of the United States. Gilliland further admitted to allowing hundreds of illegal aliens to enter the United States from Mexico through his primary inspection lane at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. Gilliland further agreed not to contest the administrative forfeiture of the $5,700 found at his residence, as proceeds of the offenses.

Judge Houston set a self-surrender date of March 16, 2007.

DEFENDANTS Criminal Case No. 06CR1336-JAH

Michael Anthony Gilliland Sentence: 60 months; $200,000 fine; 3 years supervised release; $5,700 forfeited.

Aurora Torres Lopez Sentencing scheduled for February 22, 2007.

Marina Perez de Garcia Sentence: 41 months; 3 years supervised release; $57,328 forfeited.

Patricia Santamaria Sentence: 36 months; 3 years supervised release; property forfeited.

Salvador Zuniga-Torres Sentence: 18 months; 2 years supervised release.

Rosalba Raygoza-Romero Sentence: 21 months; 2 years supervised release.


Count: 1
Charges: Conspiracy to Bring in Illegal Aliens for Financial Gain Title18, United States Code, Section 371. Maximum Penalty: 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine per count.

Counts: 2-3, 14
Charges: Bringing in Illegal Aliens for Financial Gain Title 8 , United States Code, Section 1324(a)(2)(B)(ii). Maximum Penalty: 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine per count.

Count: 37
Charges: Bribery of a Public Official Title 18, United States Code, Section 201(b)(2)(A) and© and (b)(1)(A) and ©. Maximum Penalty: 15 years in prison and a fine not to exceed three times the monetary amount of the bribe.


Later Coverage

Poynter:  Frontline Probes Human Smuggling on the Mexican Border (May 23 2008)

…  He follows the story of one such corrupt U.S. border guard, Michael Gilliland, a decorated Customs and Border Protection inspector with 16 years’ experience who was allegedly enticed to join the smugglers by a combination of money and sex. “This is like a cold war technique,” says FBI supervisor Andy Black. “Greed is a powerful motivator for some individuals. Sex is a powerful motivator. In this case, there is more pressure now than [at] any other time for smuggling organizations to elicit the help of border officials in their smuggling operations. If you have a corrupt border official working for you, you’ve got the keys to the nation.”

The amount of money corrupt inspectors can make is also a major temptation. Michael Gilliland pled guilty to accepting more than $100,000 in bribes for waving targeted vans of illegals through the border. The FBI says he was likely making $1,000 for each migrant he allowed through, and could make as much as $60,000 in one evening. With almost 200 cases now under investigation across the southwest border, FBI supervisor Black says that corruption is a growing problem. “Those corrupt officials that are allowing vehicles in unchecked have no idea as to what’s entering this country, whether it’s a potential terrorist, a convicted murderer, convicted rapist or drugs.” (PBS press release via Poynter)

Frontline World / Mexico:  Crimes at the Border:  Extended Interview:  Andy Black

Q: Do you have any sense of how widespread this corruption is?

We consider it a serious problem and one that’s not going away in the immediate future. The Border Corruption Task Force’s job is to work together to address a corruption problem. We’re a reactive task force. We identify corrupt inspectors and corrupt border officials, and we try to remove them and prosecute them. But the problem isn’t going to be solved until the government finds a way to hire people who are less susceptible to this type of corruption and puts security measures in place to make it more difficult for corrupt inspectors and border officials to succeed. The vast majority of individuals on the border come to work every day and do a very good job. But all it takes is one Michael Gilliland or Richard Elizalda working next to them to undo the efforts they make to secure the borders.

Q: In terms of the Michael Gilliland case, he was a former marine, a popular long-time employee and a leader among his peers. If he can make basically his annual salary in one evening, that’s a pretty big temptation.

The temptation on the border is overwhelming. These smuggling organizations know that there’s tremendous money to be made. They watch for border officials who are perhaps susceptible. Anyone less than honest is going to be tempted and is going to succumb to that type of temptation. It was a surprise to many that Michael Gilliland was a corrupt inspector. He was very popular at the port. He was very charismatic. He trained some of the inspectors. But the temptation for him was too much.

Q: How big a success was the Gilliland case for your task force?

It was a very significant case. As you’ve seen on the surveillance, there’s footage of Gilliland just waving cars unchecked through his lane. Anyone could have been in those cars. We see this as a serious security issue for this country – the length of time he had been employed as an inspector, the number of vehicles that were passing through his lane, taking him off that line was critical. It also sent a message to the hardworking inspectors in that port of entry that this country is not going to tolerate corruption, and it validates the job that they’re doing.

Q: But there were peculiar circumstances in the Gilliland case that led to his arrest. Obviously one was connecting the dots of the different leads, but also the fact that you had leads at all.

Correct. These are complex investigations. While the smuggling aspect, the smuggling components, may not be sophisticated, these unremarkable criminals were able to get a border inspector to work with them. [Gilliland] had the expertise. He knew how to avoid detection. He knew and was familiar with the sophisticated techniques that federal agents use to investigate corrupt law enforcement. And he did his best to protect his organization. He was at the top of that organization. It wasn’t the smugglers.

Q: Because he was the free pass.

He was the free pass, and he gave the orders.

Frontline World / Mexico:  Crimes at the Border:  Extended Interview:  Edward Archuleta

[This article is too long & too relevant to start quoting anything -- this is a in-depth interview with the FBI agent who arrested and interrogated Michael Anthony Gilliland.  I'd suggest you read it in its entirety.]

Frontline World / Mexico:  Crimes at the Border:  Synopsis and Video

Reed’s undercover operation tracked Torres as she took her group of illegal immigrants, and the FBI plant, to a San Diego suburb, to what is known in the trade as a “load house,” a place where smugglers hold the migrants until a relative or friend arrives to pay the required smuggling fee. A member of Reed’s team, posing as a relative, showed up to pay $3,500 to pick up their operative. Later, the operative told his FBI handlers that he’d read the name on the badge of the guard who waved them through: It was “Gilliland.”

At the time, Michael Gilliland, a former Marine, was a decorated Customs and Border Protection inspector with 16 years experience. Investigators began to follow him and wiretap his phone calls, including calls from Aurora Torres, the leader of the smuggling group. “From these wiretaps, obtained by FRONTLINE/World, it appears the two [Torres and Gilliland] were having an intimate relationship,” says Bergman. “The FBI told me that it’s a well-known tactic that smugglers use sex to entice border agents into compromising relationships.”

Still, the FBI needed proof that Gilliland was taking bribes. They managed to record surveillance video of Gilliland entering Torres’ residence, then leaving carrying a plastic bag. “He was coming to pick up his money,” says Reed.

A month later the FBI videotaped Gilliland waving cars through his lane at the Port of Entry, not looking at identification, not asking questions, not searching cars. One of the vehicles caught on the tape –  a black GMC Yukon — was driven by Torres with 11 illegal immigrants inside. The FBI finally had all the evidence they needed. They arrested Gilliland and Torres.

L.A. Times:  Border Agents, Lured by the Other Side  (May 27 2008)

A Veteran Gone Bad:  The customs inspector stands just outside his booth, his hand waving a stream of cars through the Otay Mesa crossing just east of San Diego. They zip past, one after another, no questions asked, an unusually easy welcome into the United States where inspectors are known to grill citizens about their travels before allowing them through.  But time was running short for this Customs and Border Protection officer, Michael Gilliland, a revered veteran on the late shift expecting a special delivery — a vehicle with several illegal immigrants — in his crossing lane.  Rather than intercept them, he had arranged for their safe passage through his lane, federal prosecutors said.

Mr. Black, the F.B.I. agent from San Diego, shook his head as he watched a surveillance videotape of Mr. Gilliland.  “You’re basically giving that smuggling organization an opportunity to conceal whatever else they want in that vehicle,” he said, “whether it’s drugs, weapons, terrorists.”

The smugglers use any ruse available to lure border workers but seem to favor deploying attractive women as bait. They flirt and charm and beg the officers, often middle-aged men, to “just this once” let an unauthorized relative or friend through. And then another and another.  Prosecutors believe this is how smugglers ensnared Mr. Gilliland, who eventually pleaded guilty to taking $70,000 to $120,000 in exchange for letting hundreds of illegal immigrants pass through his lane. He was sentenced last year to five years in federal prison. Two women he had befriended also pleaded guilty.

The case against Mr. Gilliland, 46, stands out for the number of immigrants he helped and the shock of a respected veteran gone bad.  To young inspectors, Mr. Gilliland was a mentor, quick with advice, even an embrace, a burly go-to type with 16 years under his belt.  “He knew the laws backward and forward,” said Edward Archuleta, an internal affairs agent with Customs and Border Protection who once worked with Mr. Gilliland and eventually helped bring him down.

A tip steered F.B.I. agents to Mr. Gilliland’s illegal activities, but it took agents two years to build the case. The evidence against him included secretly recorded phone conversations in which Mr. Gilliland coordinated with Mexican smugglers when to drive their cargo of illegal immigrants through inspection lanes.  One morning, while Mr. Gilliland was taking a break from his shift, agents called him over and told him he was under arrest. They had braced for Mr. Gilliland to become belligerent, but instead he collapsed into a chair, weak-kneed.

ABC News:  Exclusive: FBI Says Corrupt Border Officials Accepting Bribes Expose U.S. to Terrorist Risk (Sept 24 2009)

In one instance at the U.S.-Mexico border, FBI video surveillance obtained by ABC News caught a truck full of illegal immigrants pulling up to Customs and Border Protection officer Michael Gilliland, and being waved through his border inspection lane for $100,000, officials said.

NBC San Diego: Exclusive Video: Gone Bad at the Border:  Money and sex are being used by smugglers to turn good officers bad (May 9 2010)

Even the most seasoned officers can fall prey to those temptations — like Mike Gilliland.  The retired Marine worked at the Otay Mesa port of entry for 16 years. Gilliland’s wife was also a CBP officer and he was so well respected, supervisors trusted him to train rookies.  “So you felt confident that he would guide you in the right direction. He’d be there for you,” U.S Customs and Border Protection Supervisor Angelica De Cima said.

But FBI agents say Gilliland began leading a secret life after meeting Marina Perez De Garcia and Aurora Torres Lopez.  “Both of these women ran separate smuggling cells but they knew of each other’s existence,” Reed said.  FBI video shows Torres Lopez, with her child, meeting with a woman she thinks is a customer who wants to smuggle a family into the U.S. The woman is actually an undercover FBI agent, who is told each family member will cost $4,000.

“Cars that were loaded up with 15 plus people would be entering the U.S. by these women or people working for these women through Mike’s lane,” Reed said.  In undercover video, you can see Gilliland working at his booth. He reaches inside and turns off the plate reader, which documents each vehicle that enters the U.S. Moments later a dark SUV, filled with illegal immigrants, drives right through — unchecked.

Other undercover video shows Gilliland entering a smuggler’s South Bay home. 13 minutes later he leaves with what investigators believe is a bag filled with money.  Gilliland admitted to taking up to a $120,000 in bribes over a two year period.

Examiner:  Badge for sale – the tales of MICE and men (Aug 13 2010)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer with 16 years of experience, Michael Gilliland was knowingly allowing illegal aliens across the border, earning the equivalent of his annual salary in a day. For example, depending on the size of the vehicle, you could have 10 – 12 people in the car, 4 or more smugglers’ vehicles coming across per each shift – 48 aliens at $1,000 a head would earn Gilliland over $48,000 in one day. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison.

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