Erica Heartquist Reports
Former Border Patrol agent caught allegedly smuggling illegals

Feb 24, 2007 08:22 AM

Only on 4, a man who once worked to protect our border now faces charges of smuggling illegal immigrants across it.

Former U.S. Border Patrol agent Bernie Villaneuva was nabbed on the side of the road just outside Sonoita.

"He has been detained. He is in custody and he will be charged with felony alien smuggling," said U.S. Border Patrol public information officer, Gus Soto.

Border agents from the Sonoita station caught him off Highway 83 between Sonoita and Tucson.

Authorities say Villaneuva was transporting two illegals; one man and one woman. They apparently told agents they were to pay $500 each to Villaneuva in order to be transported.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Villaneuva told border agents the only thing he was getting from the immigrants were drinks and companionship from the woman.

Agents with the U.S. Attorney's Office say he was taking the two illegal immigrants from Nogales to Phoenix.

"It's unclear why he decided to use this route," said Soto.

Because of his years with the U.S. Border Patrol, Villaneuva may have known to avoid Interstate-19 North to Tucson and instead take State Route 82 to State Route 83 because there is no permanent checkpoint set up on that route.

Villaneuva worked for the Border Patrol out of Nogales from 1996 to 2000.

Prior to that, he was a federal prison guard.

Even though he left the U.S. Border Patrol in 2000 on medical discharge, agents say his arrest still tarnishes the agency's image.

"We're just like any other agency, and we are prone to some agents doing some criminal acts. They are very few and far between but anytime one happens, it does give the agency a black eye," said Soto.

Villaneuva is now awaiting his day in court.