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U.S. customs officer accused of letting drug-filled cars enter from Mexico, spending bribe money on gifts, strip clubs

Massive drug-smuggling tunnel discovered
Massive drug-smuggling tunnel found between Tijuana, San Diego 00:41

A former U.S. Customs officer has been convicted of accepting bribes to let drug-filled vehicles into the United States from Mexico, giving traffickers a one-hour window to reach his lane at a San Diego border crossing and pocketing at least $13,000 per vehicle, officials said Thursday.

Prosecutors say Leonard Darnell George, a Customs and Border Protection officer working for two separate criminal organizations, allowed at least 19 crossings between late 2021 to June 2022. The vehicles contained several hundred pounds of methamphetamine as well as smaller amounts of cocaine, fentanyl and heroin, and also people being brought into the country illegally, according to court documents.

Text messages obtained by investigators showed George agreed to let cars through for $17,000 per vehicle, and one message showed he received $68,000 after letting through four vehicles from drug traffickers in June 2022, the news release said. Prosecutors allege that George would notify drug traffickers when he was at work and what lane he was on.

On the same day he received one $13,000 bribe payment, George bought a 2020 Cadillac CT5 for an associate of the drug trafficking organization as a Valentine's Day gift, prosecutors said.

An aerial view of the San Ysidro port of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border is seen from Tijuana, Mexico, on January 9, 2023.
An aerial view of the San Ysidro port of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border is seen from Tijuana, Mexico, on January 9, 2023. Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images

George's attorney, Antonio Yoon, did not immediately respond to emails and voicemail seeking comment.

George was convicted by a federal jury in U.S. District Court in San Diego on Monday of taking a bribe by a public official, conspiracy to import controlled substances, and two counts of allowing vehicles with unauthorized individuals to enter the country.

"Abandoning the integrity of the uniform for the conspiracy of drug trafficking is a path to a criminal conviction," said U.S. Attorney Tara K. McGrath in a statement.

Witnesses testified that George used the money to buy vehicles, motorcycles and jewelry, and also spent lavishly at a strip club in Tijuana, the news release said.

"He would stand on the second level of the club and throw cash over the balcony to the dancers below, 'showering' them with money," prosecutors said. "He would buy bottles of alcohol, and occasionally gifts, for dancers."

His sentencing hearing is set for Sept. 13. The maximum penalty for his charges range from 10 years to life in prison.

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