Wednesday, April 13, 2011

U.S. Border Patrol agent in Yuma sector indicted on drug charges

A U.S. Border Patrol agent was indicted Tuesday on charges of trafficking marijuana along the Mexican border, authorities said.

A federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment against Michael Angelo Atondo after fellow Border Patrol agents found him with 44 bundles of marijuana in his vehicle in a remote area April 4, according to Robbie Sherwood, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Sherwood gave this account:

Atondo set off a sensor several miles away from his Wellton-area patrol zone in an area just east of San Luis. When agents arrived, he was standing in uniform next to his Border Patrol vehicle, which was backed up to the border fence.

Parked on the other side were two Jeep Cherokees backed up to the fence. When the Border Patrol agents approached the three vehicles, the Jeeps fled deeper into Mexico.

The agents discovered 44 packages of marijuana in the back of Atondo's vehicle, each weighing totaling about 745 pounds.

The haul had an estimated wholesale value of $371,000.

Officials with the DEA and IRS launched an investigation.

Atondo was charged with conspiracy to commit importation of marijuana, importation of marijuana, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana and possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

If convicted, Atondo could spend up to 40 years in prison on each count, as well as a $2 million fine and four years of supervised release.

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