|Photo: Yuma Sun|
|Border Patrol agent Michael Atondo was arrested after the discovery of more than 745 pounds of marijuana in his patrol vehicle.|
Details are coming to light in the case of Michael Atondo, the Border Patrol agent arrested in Arizona this week with marijuana in his patrol vehicle.
Two agents responding to an activated sensor found Atondo at the border fence, according to the criminal complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, reports Sarah Womer at the Yuma Sun. Because of his “unusual actions” — Atondo was understandably freaking out — the agents asked to search Atondo’s vehicle, where they discovered multiple bundles of marijuana.
Atondo is now facing a federal charge of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. He made his first appearance at the U.S. federal courthouse in Yuma on Wednesday.
|Photo: David McNew|
The agent was busted on Monday by Drug Enforcement Administration agents after more than 745 pounds of marijuana was discovered in his marked Border Patrol truck. The arrest happened at the U.S.-Mexico border, about 30-40 miles east of the U.S. port of entry at San Luis, Arizona, according to the criminal complaint.
As the two Border Patrol agents approached the area, they found a marked Border Patrol vehicle backed up against the fence that marks the border between the United States and Mexico. The vehicle’s rear door was open.
At the end of the border fence is an open area, large enough for someone to walk back and forth over the border between the two nations, according to the complaint.
One of the agents found it unusual that the Border Patrol vehicle already there hadn’t responded to the activated sensor, since it was closer to the area.
As the two agents approached, they found two Jeep Cherokees parked in Mexico, and a person running from the two vehicles, which were also backed up to the point where the border fence ends.
At this point, Atondo came out of the parked Border Patrol vehicle with his service weapon drawn and pointed at the individual who was running away. Two other people in Mexico then jumped into the Cherokees and drove farther into Mexico, according to the complaint.
Atondo told the two agents that two more people had run eastward toward a hill, and then jumped into his vehicle, supposedly to pursue them. However, the two agents had a clear view of the area, and did not see anyone.
|Photo: David McNew|
The two agents, increasingly suspicious, followed Atondo and asked him if something was wrong, according to the complaint. They noted that Atondo seemed “very nervous,” and neither could understand what Atondo was trying to tell them. However, one of the agents managed to understand that Atondo claimed to searching for a flashlight he had lost the previous day.
One of the agents asked if Atondo had called for any backup, to which Atondo said he had been unable to initiate contact on his service radio.
One of the agents noticed that Atondo’s nametape was missing from his uniform, which the agent found unusual since he had noticed Atondo was wearing it that morning.
The two agents continued to follow an increasingly agitated Atondo, and one of the agents contacted a supervisor for assistance.
One of the agents confronted Atondo and asked for permission to search his vehicle. During the search, the agent found “orderly stacks” of marijuana in the back of Atondo’s patrol vehicle.
Atondo began to pace nervously back and forth, undoubtedly imagining the treatment he’ll receive in prison when word gets our he’s a former Border Patrol agent perhaps responsible for the incarceration of some of his fellow prisoners. The agitated Atondo retrieved his body armor and put it on, according to the complaint.
When the supervisory agent arrived, Atondo said he was looking for a flashlight he had lost three days earlier, which was inconsistent with his earlier statement to the two agents, according to the complaint.
The supervisor noted there were inconsistencies with the footprints at the scene. He noted it was strange that the suspected smugglers or illegal aliens described by Atondo were not frightened or startled by Atondo’s presence, and did not run until the second Border Patrol vehicle showed up.
Atondo had made repeated requests to be assigned to an area known as “The Line,” which is directly adjacent to the international border and where the events in question happened, according to the complaint. He had actually been assigned to work in the “Lower Area” several miles away from “The Line.”
Under questioning later that day by DEA special agents, Atondo said he climbed a small hill in the area and noticed the two vehicles parked near the fence. He said the found the bundles of marijuana stacked at the edge of the fence on the north and south side of the fence. He said he checked for more people, then returned to his vehicle and loaded the bundles of marijuana into it.
As he was loading the bundles, Atondo said, he heard an additional Border Patrol vehicle coming. At that time, he said he also saw “unidentified individuals”P in the area on the Mexico side of the border. As the second vehicle approached, the individuals fled southward and westward.
Atondo said he alerted the two agents to the fleeing individuals, then got in his vehicle to check for additional subjects in the area. Then, he said he turned his vehicle around, met with the two agents, and returned to the initial area. He then told one of the agents he had found bundles of marijuana and placed them in his patrol vehicle.
At Atondo’s Wednesday hearing, his case was transferred to the U.S. District Court of Arizona in Phoenix. Atondo is temporarily being held in federal custody until his detention hearing in Yuma next week.