Former U.S. Border Patrol union chief cleared of fraud charges

SAN DIEGO Wed Feb 12, 2014 12:59am EST

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SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed all criminal charges brought by U.S. prosecutors against a former head of the border patrol union accused of misusing union and government funds for his own enrichment.

Terence "T.J." Bonner, who for 22 years served as head of the National Border Patrol Council, was charged in two indictments, in 2012 and 2013, with multiple counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit both.

He was accused of writing himself checks from union coffers as reimbursement for business travel, overtime, weekend wages and other union expenses but which officials said were actually used to buy pornography and pay for trips to Chicago to see a mistress.

Federal prosecutors said he siphoned hundreds of thousands of dollars in all in union funds for his personal use.

Bonner pleaded not guilty and has maintained that the charges were brought in retaliation against him for speaking out against the government.

He had sharply criticized the U.S. Justice Department over the failed "Fast and Furious" gun-running investigation, an operation intended to track weapons sold in Arizona that were suspected of being transported to Mexican drug cartels.

At the request of prosecutors, all charges against Bonner were dropped late Tuesday on the eve of a court hearing that was intended to sort through what evidence against him would remain after U.S. District Judge William Hayes threw out most electronic evidence that had been gathered in the case.

Hayes had found then that investigators improperly conducted a broad search of Bonner's computers under a warrant that the judge said was more limited in scope.

"They ransacked my home and personal computers looking for something to charge me with because I was speaking unpleasant truths," Bonner said in a telephone interview on Tuesday night. "They humiliated me, and they violated my Constitutional rights. They picked me up by the ankles and shook me until my pockets were empty."

Federal prosecutors were not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Marty Graham; Editing by Steve Gorman and Ken Wills)

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