PHOENIX (Reuters) - A U.S. Border Patrol agent has been arrested after he was spotted accepting bundles of marijuana from a suspected Mexican smuggler at an international border fence in Arizona, authorities said on Tuesday.
Aaron Anaya, 25, was taken into custody early on Monday by federal agents who seized 147 pounds (66.6 kg) of marijuana inside three duffle bags from his border patrol vehicle, authorities said in a criminal complaint in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.
Anaya, a U.S. Border Patrol agent since 2010, was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and firearm possession during a drug trafficking offense, according to the criminal complaint. Anaya had his service weapon with him at the time.
The controlled substance count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and the firearms count is punishable by up to 5 years behind bars.
Anaya’s federal public defender could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Stephen Martin, the Border Patrol’s sector chief for Yuma, Arizona, said the agency was “sorely disappointed by the alleged conduct of one of our own.”
“I appreciate the efforts by our law enforcement partners and our own agents to uncover those that violate their oath of office, and hold them accountable for their actions,” Martin said in a statement released on Tuesday.
Anaya was arrested by agents from the FBI-led Southwest Border Corruption Task Force who were conducting surveillance with the help of aircraft in an area between Yuma and Wellton, about 185 miles southwest of Phoenix.
According to a probable cause statement filed with the complaint, agents say they watched as Anaya stopped his patrol vehicle along the border and picked up bales of marijuana tossed over the fence into Arizona from a man on Mexican side.
Anaya was then seen by the agents placing the load into his vehicle before he continued patrolling, the probable cause document said.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports that 129 agents were arrested on corruption charges from 2003 to 2009.
Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Sandra Maler