EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A federal grand jury has leveled criminal charges against a former El Paso U.S. Border Patrol who allegedly promised a woman immigration “papers” in exchange for $5,000.
Fernando Castillo, described in court documents as an agent in the Foreign Operations Branch of the Border Patrol at the time of the offense, is set to be arraigned in U.S. District Court in El Paso on August 17 on bribery, wire fraud, and migrant smuggling charges.
Wednesday’s indictment and a previous arrest warrant allege Castillo was on duty at the Central Processing Center in Northeast El Paso last June when he approached a woman awaiting removal from the U.S. and offered to have her sent to Mexico instead of El Salvador.
The agent allegedly was driving the woman alone in a van to the Paso del Norte port of entry but stopped and told her he would get her “papeles” (papers) for $5,000. Investigators say “papeles” is slang for immigration documents allowing a foreign national to be in the United States legally.
Castillo allegedly detailed how he could change her Voluntary Return status to a Notice to Appear in court, which could allow her to return to the country and travel unimpeded. Before escorting the woman to the border with Mexico at the Paso del Norte port of entry, the agent allegedly rummaged through the woman’s bag of belongings, the indictment alleges.
The woman claims her bag originally held $830 and 3,725 Mexican pesos (about $225), but when she found herself on the Mexican side, $500 was missing from the bag. The woman returned to the port of entry; she told her story to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, and they notified the FBI and members of CBP’s Public Corruption Task Force.
While the agents were interviewing the woman, a male whom investigators believed was Agent Castillo called her. The two agreed to speak again the following day. Investigators recorded the next call between the two in which the male told her he would have her “papers” in a few days.
The agents ran an audit of the woman’s immigration file and allegedly documented how Castillo had changed the voluntary removal to a notice to appear at 9:42 a.m. on June 22, then changed it back to voluntary removal at 10:11 a.m. Investigators believe a paper copy of a notice of appearance could have been printed during the lapse and that, if given to the woman, would have allowed her to come into the country and travel legally.
A third call was recorded on the day before the woman was supposed to approach the port of entry, in which she told the male she had the $5,000, and he told her to come in so he could take her to a bus station.
The agents arrested Castillo on the morning of June 28 as he and the woman exited the fenced area of the port. According to the arrest documents, he allegedly had her notice to appear in his possession, and she had the money.
Castillo later agreed to speak to investigators, and he told them he opened her personal belongings bag to hand her a cell phone because she wanted to call her husband. The agent denied stealing any of her money, court documents show.
The Border Patrol agent claimed to investigators that he received a call from Mexican immigration officials telling him the woman he escorted to Mexico was Salvadoran, not Mexican. He told him he became concerned for her safety in Mexico, so he called her cell phone. He said he wanted her back in the U.S. so she could be properly processed and returned to El Salvador.
The agent allegedly acknowledged he did not inform his supervisors of his actions, court documents show.
Investigators decided they had probable cause that Castillo violated statutes regarding bribery of public officials, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office took the case to a grand jury. He is scheduled to appear via Zoom for his arraignment before Senior U.S. District Judge David C. Guaderrama.
The Border Patrol cooperated in the investigation. “CBP takes allegations of misconduct seriously and investigates them thoroughly. The United States Border Patrol is cooperating with the investigation,” the agency said in a statement to Border Report.
Federal officials said Castillo’s “date of separation” from the Border Patrol was July 13, more than two weeks after his arrest.