Martha Garnica was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Photo: Department of Homeland Security

EL PASO — A veteran customs employee who pleaded guilty to drug trafficking, human smuggling and bribery charges was sentenced today to 20 years in prison by a Federal District Judge.

Martha Alicia Garnica, 43, was also ordered to pay a fine of $5,000 and supervised release for four years once released from prison. Judge David Briones denied prosecutors’ request for Garnica to forfeit $1 million.

Garnica, who pleaded guilty in May, choked back tears in the courtroom as she apologized to several family members in attendance, the government and the judge. About two dozen federal agents sat in the courtroom as the sentence was handed down.

Garnica conspired with drug traffickers to import more than 200 pounds of marijuana between April and November 2009. Garnica and a co-defendant also paid bribes totaling $5,500 to a Customs and Border Protection officer to allow drugs and an illegal immigrant into the country. The inspector, in turn, cooperated with federal internal affairs agents in the investigation.

Hired as customs inspector in February 1997, Garnica became a CBP officer when DHS formed in 2003. Since March 2008 she had been a technician assigned to an El Paso-area border crossing.

Three other defendants received prison sentences, ranging from two years to a little more than five years. A fourth defendant was murdered in February in Juarez.

Andrew Becker is a reporter for Reveal, covering border, national and homeland security issues, as well as weapons and gun trafficking. He has focused on waste, fraud and abuse – with stories ranging from border corruption to the expanding use of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles, from the militarization of police to the intersection of politics and policy related to immigration, from terrorism to drug trafficking. Becker's reporting has appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and on National Public Radio and PBS/FRONTLINE, among others. He received a master's degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. Becker is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.