The prosecution also relies on accounts of alleged accomplices and migrants who entered the United States illegally, including some who identified Fidel Villareal in photographs. One 24-year-old Brazilian woman said she paid $12,000 to be taken across the border in “a police car.”
Raul Villarreal, above, and his brother Fidel, both former Border Patrol agents, fled to Mexico after discovering they were being investigated.
Raul Villarreal was long a public face of the Border Patrol, frequently appearing on television news as an agency spokesman and acting as a dangerous human smuggler in a public-service announcement intended to warn Mexicans about the dangers of entering the United States illegally.
Prosecutors contend now that he knew the smuggler’s role well because he was one.
Raul and his older brother and fellow former agent, Fidel, are accused of smuggling hundreds of migrants in Border Patrol vehicles. Federal prosecutors say the brothers were tipped they were under investigation in June 2006, prompting them to flee to Mexico.
Shortly after settling in Tijuana, a district police commander in the Mexican border city who allegedly shuttled the Villarreals’ customers in squad cars was killed in a hail of about 200 bullets. The brothers were arrested in Tijuana in October 2008 — more than two years after abruptly quitting the Border Patrol — and extradited to the United States to face charges of human smuggling, witness tampering and bribery.
The case, which goes to trial next month in San Diego, is one of the highest-profile corruption cases to sting the Border Patrol since it went on a hiring spree during the past decade. The brothers, in their early 40s, have pleaded not guilty to all counts.