SAN DIEGO — Lorne Jones received praise from supervisors for seizing large loads of marijuana and other drugs during a long career as a U.S. border inspector. Now he faces a judge for helping smuggle drugs himself.
Jones faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Monday for conspiracy to commit crimes against the United States and attempted importation of marijuana. A jury convicted him in December after a two-week trial that included testimony from Mexican traffickers and another corrupt inspector who introduced Jones to a smuggler whom he married and divorced.
Witnesses described a code system with pagers and text messages that Jones used from 2000 to 2009 to communicate which San Diego border crossing lanes he was working in at what times. Prosecutors say he allowed drugs and people to enter the country illegally while working inspection booths at the San Ysidro port of entry and that he would keep his canine patrol away from drug-laden vehicles at the commercial truck area of the Otay Mesa port of entry.
Prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff to deliver the maximum sentence. Jones' attorney, Ward Clay, is seeking a more lenient punishment.
Letters to the judge from supporters say that Jones was an outstanding public servant — first as a Marine who served in Japan and then as a border inspector — until he fell under the influence of his smuggler wife. Nicknamed "Hammer," he began working as a San Diego inspector in 1994.
Jones received numerous letters of commendation for drug seizures, including a five-ton haul of marijuana that was hidden inside a truck at the Otay Mesa crossing in March 2009. He was arrested in 2010 after a smuggler tipped investigators.
From October 2004 through September 2011, 132 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials were arrested or indicted for corrupt acts, according to the Homeland Security Department's inspector general.