SAN DIEGO - A U.S. immigration inspector accepted at least $90,000 from Mexican smugglers to allow drugs and illegal immigrants to enter the country through his inspection lane at the U.S.-Mexico border, federal authorities said Monday.
Jose Antonio Olvera, 36, of Chula Vista, received about $2,000 to $4,000 per load of drugs or immigrants over a two-year period, said Joseph Artes, special agent in charge of the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General in San Diego.
Olvera, who is charged with bribery and conspiracy, had been under investigation since March, 31, 1998, and had worked since 1996 at the border crossings at San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, which link Tijuana, Mexico with San Diego, Artes said.
He is the fourth Immigration and Naturalization Service official to be charged with corruption at San Ysidro in the past 18 months.
''There's definitely a problem at the port of entry,'' Artes said.
Olvera was charged along with four Mexican citizens who are alleged to have paid the bribes and smuggled the immigrants and marijuana through his inspection lane between October 1997, and Nov. 23, 1999, according to court papers.
Agents from an anti-corruption task force began the investigation after a federal agent with a drug-detecting dog stopped a load of about 1,000 pounds of marijuana in a pickup just before it reached Olvera's lane at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
The drugs were so poorly concealed, under a thin layer of plastic in the bed of the pickup, that the agent became suspicious of Olvera and reported him to anti-corruption investigators. ''It was basically in plain view,'' Artes said of the marijuana.
The alleged ringleader was identified as Guillermo Hernandez Mancilla, 40, of Ensenada, Mexico, who befriended Olvera and was responsible for making the bribery payments, authorities said.
Three of the four Mexicans were arrested in San Diego and have pleaded innocent to the charges. The fourth remains at large. Olvera is expected to plead guilty, authorities said.
The most serious charge, bribery, carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years. Conspiracy to smuggle marijuana can bring up to 10 years, U.S. Attorney Gregory Vega said in a statement.
''It is tantamount to treason when those who are entrusted to be our first line of defense at our ports of entry violate their oath of office by succumbing to bribery,'' Vega said.
Olvera, who was arrested at his home Friday, earned between $36,000 and $46,000 per year as an immigration inspector, according to the INS.
A hearing Monday was closed to the public and the media. Olvera and his attorney could not be immediately reached for comment.