TUCSON (CN) – A former Border Patrol agent claims the FBI entrapped and indicted him on bogus charges of money laundering and bribery to try to rescue their undercover operation at a Southern Arizona port of entry, ruining his life and career.
Seeking $5.5 million in damages, Lauro Tobias and his wife sued the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona, the Office of Inspector General, the Department of Homeland Security, three federal agents and an assistant U.S. Attorney, among others, in Federal Court.
Lauro Tobias had worked at the Lukeville Port of Entry for about 10 years when the FBI began an undercover operation there in October 2010, codenamed “Dirty Blue.”
Lukeville is a tiny, unincorporated village in extreme southwestern Arizona, opposite Sonoyta, Mexico. It is best known to U.S. tourists as the gateway to Puerto Peñasco, or Rocky Point, a popular beach camping ground in Sonora, on the Gulf of California.
The operation placed defendant Agent Adam Hoffman undercover at the port of entry as a Customs and Border Protection firearms instructor and temporary supervisor, according to the March 7 complaint.
At some point the investigation shifted focus and concentrated on Tobias.
“Special Agent Adam Hoffman created a scenario which Plaintiff Lauro Tobias became entwined in a special friendship with defendant Hoffman,” the complaint states. “Defendant Hoffman, directed, conducted and produced a series of manipulated activities to gain the trust of plaintiff Lauro Tobias. When defendant Hoffman gained plaintiff Tobias’ trust, defendant Hoffman introduced plaintiff Tobias to a purported wealthy family friend, defendant Jerry Gonzales, an employee and/or agent of the federal government, for the sole purpose of befriending and developing a business relationship in providing security for the alleged business ventures of defendant Jerry Gonzales, including transportation of money within the United States.”
According to court documents in Tobias’ dismissed criminal case, Tobias and the “purported wealthy family friend” became fast friends based on “enticements of entertainment” and “trips to Miami, San Francisco and Las Vegas.”
Tobias says the “rich family friend” hired him to provide security and carry cash for what he believed was a legitimate business deal. In his motion to dismiss for outrageous governmental conduct, he says the undercover agents assured him that “the activities they had gotten Mr. Tobias involved with were legal.”
In August 2012, while working for the purported businessman, Tobias took $100,000 in cash from Las Vegas to Phoenix. He says the undercover agents told him that the money was legitimate.
But in March 2013, defendant James Lacey, then an assistant U.S. attorney in Arizona, called Tobias into his office and told him “‘to help himself’ by coming clean about all of the illegal activities that were occurring at the Lukeville Port of Entry,” Tobias said in his motion to dismiss.
When Tobias told the FBI he didn’t know anything about corruption at Lukeville, he was arrested and then indicted on charges of money laundering, bribery and fraud with a computer.
A superseding federal indictment in September 2013 claimed that Tobias knew that the $100,000 he carried from Las Vegas to Phoenix came from selling cocaine, and that he was paid $3,000 for job. The indictment also claimed he’d known all along that the purported rich businessman was a drug dealer and agreed to work for him anyway.
Tobias fought the charges for more than a year with help from Tucson attorney Steven West. In their July 2014 motion to dismiss for outrageous conduct, they said that “a series of manipulated activities the government compromised the integrity of Mr. Tobias.”
On the same day that Tobias and West filed their motion, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona filed its own motion to dismiss the indictment “in the interest of justice .”
A few days later, U.S. District Judge Cindy Jorgenson dismissed all the charges against Tobias with prejudice .
By then, Tobias had been fired from the Border Patrol for failing to report the allegedly illegal activities, attorney West told Courthouse News on Thursday. He is also representing Tobias in the civil case.
“The agents are very adept at gaining people’s confidence and trust,” West said. “Even after the so-called illegal act that he should have reported, they are giving him assurances that nothing illegal is going on.”
Tobias wants the government to pay for mixing him up in operation “Dirty Blue.” He claims in the civil lawsuit that the government enticed him into a “web of deceit and wrongdoing” to save the operation from failure.
“Due to the failure of the initial ‘Dirty Blue’ operation, a different approach by the government was instigated,” the complaint states. “The new operation was set up to compromise the integrity of an innocent Customs and Border Protection agent, to coerce information regarding the suspected corrupt agents at Lukeville Port of Entry. Plaintiff Lauro Tobias had no knowledge and/or information to provide to Defendant Adam Hoffman about any illegal activities at the Lukeville Port of Entry.”
West said the defendants “just believed that there was corruption down there and they were going to use any means they could, even if it meant destroying some individual to try to gain some information about corruption at the border.”
Due to the entrapment and indictment, Tobias has “sustained mental anxiety, suffered an interruption in his lifestyle, loss of employment, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of his good reputation and character, loss of consortium, and has incurred medical expenses for the care and treatment of the mental and physical injuries,” he says in the complaint.
West said it’s “a bit of a mystery” why the undercover agents targeted Tobias. It might have been because he drove a Corvette and wore a Rolex watch, which he bought while serving overseas in the military. Or it might have been because he was a nice guy.
“I suspect it was a couple of things,” West said. “He is a very friendly guy; he always liked to help the new guys … the so-called friendship probably blossomed from that. I don’t know why they did it. Money was going to be something that they were going to tempt him with. That was the end play.”
Regardless of why he was caught up in the operation, West said, Tobias’ life will never be the same. Now in his 60s, Tobias is “essentially retired” and still living in Arizona.
“It just destroys the individual,” West said. “It’s not fun going through this kind of stuff. No matter what, people are going to look at you, your family and your friends – most everybody stuck with him, but still there’s a taint there that he’s never going to get rid of.”
The FBI had no comment on Tobias’ allegations. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona did not respond to a request for comment.
Ironically, despite the notorious corruption of Mexican law enforcement agencies, sting operations are illegal there. Government employees in Mexico are prohibited by law from engaging in illegal acts to try to nab criminals.
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