Martha Garnica was arrested in November 2009.
Photo: Department of Homeland Security

A veteran customs inspector arrested last November on corruption-related charges is expected to enter a guilty plea next week, according to federal court records.

Martha Alicia Garnica, 43, is scheduled to change her plea to guilty on May 14 in U.S. District Court in El Paso. She previously pleaded not guilty.

She was arrested with two other suspects last November and indicted on charges of conspiracy to smuggle undocumented aliens, two counts of bribery, and one count of importation of a controlled substance. The charges she was indicted on could result in a sentence of 10 years to life. Prosecutors are also seeking forfeiture of $1 million and other property.

Prosecutors alleged that she and four other suspects imported 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 on three occasions to allow drugs and an illegal immigrant into the country, according to a superceding indictment.

The CBP officer cooperated with agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General and CBP Internal Affairs, who investigated the case against Garnica and her co-defendants.

Three other defendants already pleaded guilty. Garnica’s nephew, Edgar “Ely” Meraz, pleaded guilty on March 26 to a drug smuggling charge. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 4. Her boyfriend, Carlos Ramirez Rosales, pleaded guilty on April 30 to bribery of a public official. Other charges were dismissed. He is scheduled to be sentenced on July 15. The other defendant, Arturo Leal Rosales, pleaded guilty on a drug-smuggling charge April 29 and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 13.

Another suspect died in Juarez, Mexico, in February after gunmen shot him to death, the El Paso Times reported. Hugo Flores Colmenero, a U.S. citizen, was shot 14 times. He was killed about a month after the indictment against him was unsealed.

The government’s witnesses said Flores Colmenero gave orders to Garnica and the other defendants, the Times reported. An ICE agent testified that Garnica took over the operation after Flores Colmenero’s brother was killed last August at a bar in Juarez.

Garnica was hired as a customs inspector in February 1997 and became a CBP officer when the Department of Homeland Security stood up in 2003, a CBP spokesman said. Garnica had been assigned to an administrative position as a CBP technician since March 2008 at an El Paso-area border crossing point. She was an El Paso police officer from 1990 to 1997.

According to the Times, Garnica was shot in the left hand in 1996 when she got in a scuffle as she stopped to check on two men. One of the men reached for her gun, which fired and injured her.

Another recent case involving a corrupt female customs inspector working in El Paso with Mexican drug traffickers resulted in a 20-year prison sentence for the woman.

Margarita Crispin, who became a CBP officer in 2003, was arrested in 2007 on corruption-related charges. She was ordered to forfeit $5 million, and is believed to have aided several traffickers smuggle thousands of pounds of marijuana into the country.

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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.