A 42-year-old Los Angeles police officer was charged with attempting to smuggle two Mexican nationals through a Border Patrol checkpoint in San Diego County, prosecutors said Thursday.
Officer Mambasse Koulabalo Patara, of Rancho Cucamonga, was arrested 12 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border after passing through a checkpoint on Interstate 8 near Pine Valley with the two men in his car around 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, according to a federal complaint filed Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.
The passengers in Patara’s black 2006 Toyota Corolla — Fermin Lopez and his nephew, German Ramirez-Gonzalez — eventually admitted to being in the U.S. illegally and were also taken into custody, officials said.
Border agents said Patara behaved anxiously as he pulled into the primary inspection area, shaking visibly and avoiding eye contact. He immediately told the agents he was an off-duty police officer and showed his Los Angeles Police Department identification card, according to the complaint.
Initially, border officials were told Lopez was a U.S. citizen as well, prosecutors said. The men said they were coming from the Golden Acorn Casino in Campo.
After being sent to secondary inspection, Patara told the agents he was in possession of his service weapon, which was then seized from his waistband, the filing said.
At that point, both Ramirez and Lopez allegedly admitted to lacking documents that would allow them to legally remain in the U.S. Border agents confirmed their status through Department of Homeland Security databases.
However, neither man claimed to have been smuggled, officials said.
Lopez told authorities he had illegally crossed the border with his nephew on Sunday, April 22, and that they walked for a day and a half to reach the casino. After they got there, Ramirez secured transportation from a stranger, he claimed, according to the complaint.
Ramirez, however, said he and his uncle entered the U.S. on April 18 and then hitched a ride to Los Angeles, the filing states. He told the agents he had gone with Patara — who he said he’s known for about five years — to the Viejas Casino in Alpine from Fontana.
After gambling in Alpine for an hour or so, the men decided to head to the Golden Acorn. But were only there for about 15 minutes before heading back to Los Angeles, Ramirez allegedly told authorities.
During the conversation, he referred to Patara by his first name and mentioned he’d worked on the police officer’s property, officials said.
Patara was charged Wednesday with transporting illegal aliens and was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday, prosecutors said.
If convicted as charged, he could face a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.