|San Ysidro Border Crossing By Phil Konstantin|
As the busiest land border crossing in the world, the U.S./Mexico border checkpoint at San Ysidro in California has seen its fair share of smuggling attempts. But to this day, the stop and seizure of a van stuffed with four tons of marijuana back in 2002 remains as one of the largest weed busts on record at the bustling international checkpoint.
The discovery was made as the van was just a few car lengths away from a successful border crossing, in the lane of a seasoned Border Protection inspector by the name of Lorne “Hammer” Jones. Long respected among his peers as the last line of defense on our nation’s southern border, Lorne Jones, it turns out, had spent over a decade working in cahoots with powerful Mexican drug cartels, repeatedly waving through vehicles he knew to be loaded with illegal drugs, or illegal aliens.
Jones was busted on the job in 2010, after leads from a dozen witnesses implicated him in crimes ranging from bribery, to drug and immigrant smuggling, to marijuana importation – spanning over 10 years at both the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa border crossings.
Lorne “Hammer” Jones, 50, was sentenced last week to 7½ years in federal prison, for the high crime of “selling his badge” to nefarious groups south of the border. He was accused of allowing no less than 30 metric tons of marijuana, and untold numbers of illegal immigrants pass into America unchecked, for over a decade. Yet his sentence, even if served in full, will only amount to a fraction of his lucrative years on the take.
For reference, a kilogram is roughly 2.2 pounds. If the “Hammer” was doing his job properly, and caught you smuggling 1000 kilos of cannabis into the U.S., federal law states that on your first offense, you would be sentenced to “Not less than 10 yrs. or more than life”.
“Not less than 10 yrs.”, for one metric ton of weed. Yet, Jones got caught red-handed allowing no less than 30 metric tons of weed through his inspection lane, not to mention the human cargo, and walks away with a 7½ year sentence.
Jones would routinely volunteer for overtime shifts and had a communication-by-beeper scheme with his clientele to let them know which of the 24 inspection lanes he was working. But occasionally, such as during the record bust in 2002, random line inspections thwarted his plans, and evidence, and witnesses, began to emerge.
Witnesses like Michael Taylor, a co-worker of Jones’ during the time of the corruption, who already served 48 months on similar charges. Others included Jones’s ex-wife, and his personal financial adviser who claims that the “Hammer” commonly asked him how to launder his dirty money. In return, Jones smuggled his buddy a new girlfriend into the country, so she testified against him too.
Prosecutors put the final nail in the Hammer’s coffin when they presented undeniable database evidence proving that he had allowed specific drug-laden vehicles through his lane, intentionally unchecked.
But even with a mountain of witness testimony, and clear records of tons of pot passing under his nose, Jones got a relative slap on the wrist with his paltry 7½-year sentence.
That surely hasn’t stopped his supervisors from contorting common sense to pat themselves on the back. Drug warrior U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy celebrated the rare good news under her watch by saying, “Lorne Jones allowed greed to destroy everything his badge represents. This verdict ensures that he will be held accountable with his actions.”
Pete Flores, Customs Border Protection Director of Field Operations in San Diego, said, “Today’s conviction is important to all of the other hardworking CBP employees and officers who perform their duties with honor and distinction, working tirelessly every day to keep our country safe”.
The actual message that Jones’s conviction sends to his ex-colleagues, and to the general public, is pretty darn clear – there are two sets of rules and two sets of penalties in the War on Drugs, and it all depends on who you work for, and how bad they may be made to look when you get caught.