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Former border officer gets 8 months for corruption

Posted: January 19, 2013 9:00 a.m.
Updated: January 19, 2013 9:00 a.m.
 

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A former Customs and Border Protection officer was sentenced to eight months in prison Friday for allowing his brother-in-law — a wanted migrant smuggler — to get through his inspection lane.

Thomas Silva, 33, apologized for letting his brother-in-law and two others enter the U.S. in a special lane for prescreened motorists in April at San Diego's San Ysidro border crossing. He knew his brother-in-law was wanted for escaping a halfway house after a 2006 smuggling conviction.

Silva, a border inspector from 2002 until his resignation this month, grew up in Fresno and joined the National Guard after graduating high school in 1997. He served in the Guard until 2006, including a 15-month stint in Kuwait.

"Ever since I was 17 years old, I've had the uniform of the U.S. either on my chest or my arm," he told a judge. "Some mistakes I've done pretty much disgraced that. I'm sorry for that. I can't take that back. I wish I could."

Silva's attorney said the officer faced a dilemma that tested family loyalty.

"Do you allow your brother-in-law to enter the country undetected? Or, do you expose your brother-in-law and get him to be arrested?" the attorney, Marcel Stewart, wrote in a court filing.

Silva, who married in 2011, also was sentenced for defrauding Farmers Insurance of more than $7,000 for falsely claiming that his Nissan pickup was stolen in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista. He had taken the truck to Tijuana, Mexico.

The sentence was less than the 11 months that prosecutors sought but more than the 27 days that Silva's attorney wanted.

"I don't get a lot of warm fuzzies over your excellent history," U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia told Silva, who showed little emotion in a blue button-down shirt with closely cropped hair.

Silva, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud and concealing a person from arrest shortly after he was arrested at the port of entry in September, was ordered to report to prison Feb. 18. The judge agreed to give him time to finish a college course.

Silva forfeited $16,000 in what prosecutors described as "illegal proceeds from his criminal activity," discovered in $100 bills in an electrical vent at his home. He was also ordered to pay the insurance company more than $8,000.

Customs and Border Protection had 144 current or former employees arrested or indicted for corruption-related activities since the 2005 fiscal year, including 125 who were convicted as of October, the Government Accountability Office reported this month. Corruption became a major challenge for the Border Patrol when it began a hiring spree several years ago.

"We do not tolerate corruption or abuse within our ranks, and we fully cooperate with any criminal or administrative investigations of alleged misconduct by any of our personnel, on or off duty," Customs and Border Protection said in a statement after Friday's sentencing.

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