Ex-customs agent gets sentence of 10 years


Jennifer Shubinski
El Paso Times


Following a plea agreement set out by the Justice Department, a federal judge sentenced a former U.S. Customs agent supervisor to the maximum allowable time in prison for helping smuggle marijuana over the border.

Former U.S. Customs Service supervisor Ramon F. Torrez, 50, was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, to 10 years in prison for one count of obstruction conspiracy and one count of bribery conspiracy.

U.S. District Judge David Briones sentenced Torrez to five years for each count, to run consecutively. The judge further sentenced Torrez to three years of supervised release and 200 hours of community services.

Briones also ordered Torrez to forfeit to the government $50,000, representing bribe money Torrez had received. And the judge told Torrez to file correct tax returns to reflect the bribes.

"I believe your client is getting off quite easily, Mr. (Luis) Islas," Briones said during a sentencing hearing Friday.

Defense lawyer Luis Islas declined to comment to the El Paso Times about the case.

Torrez was originally charged with agreeing to and accepting a bribe of about $80,000 from an informant. The indictment charged Torrez with one count of conspiracy to import more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana, conspiracy to defraud and obstruct the functions of the U.S. government and a scheme to conceal material facts.

"I apologize to the court and the U.S. Customs Service for my actions, and I am here to take responsibility for my actions," Torrez said during the hearing.

Torrez must surrender on May 31 to authorities.

Torrez was a U.S. Customs employee for almost 20 years and had been a supervisor since late 1996. He resigned in March 2000 while under investigation. As a supervisory special agent, he was a group supervisor for a multiple-agency task force.

Former U.S. Border Patrol agent Juan Martinez, 32, who was also a member of Torrez' task force, was indicted last year with Torrez for allegedly smuggling marijuana over the border. His case is still pending.

Former U.S. Customs agent David Jenkins, 39, has pleaded guilty of having knowledge that a felony was being committed and failing to report it. Jenkins, also a member of Torrez's task force, has yet to be sentenced and faces up to three years in prison. Jenkins resigned from the U.S. Customs Service in June 2000.

Torrez admitted in his guilty plea that he helped three informants import marijuana into the United States from Mexico, escorting the loads and then releasing them in El Paso on 15 occasions. Torrez acknowledged that the smuggled loads involved about 16,000 pounds of marijuana.

From July 1, 1998, to July 28, 1999, Torrez admitted, he and Martinez imported several loads of marijuana into the United States without seizing them. Torrez would contact the U.S. Border Patrol to arrange for the clearing of Border Patrol agents from the area of the intended crossing.

Torrez also admitted requesting on Sept. 22, 1999, that the El Paso Sheriff's Department release to him four duffel bags of marijuana containing 254 pounds of marijuana. Torrez later delivered the bags to an informant.

Jennifer Shubinski may be reached at jshubinski@elpasotimes.com