A San Diego border inspector who created a scheme to wave through immigrant and marijuana smugglers was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison Monday.
Lorne “Hammer” Jones, 50, had a central role in a decade-long crime spree, according to U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy.
Jones, an inspector at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa border crossings since 1994, allowed more than 66,000 pounds of drug cartel marijuana and many immigrants without documentation to enter into the U.S. illegally, federal prosecutors said.
The scheme started on a smaller scale, as he waved cars and vans full of immigrants and drugs through his lane at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. But it soon escalated to whole tractor trailers full of marijuana through the Otay Mesa port.
Jones volunteered to work overtime shifts so he could allow contraband-carrying vehicles to pass, according to testimony from his Dec. 2013 trial.
From there, the scheme became more sophisticated. Jones implemented a beeper code system to let smugglers known which of the 24 inspection lanes he was working.
However, the system failed in 2002 when Jones was unexpectedly reassigned to another lane, and a driver had to abandon his van full of marijuana in the inspection line.
Just months later, another van with nearly three tons of pot was intercepted in Jones’ lane a few car-lengths away from him.
According to Duffy, Jones “furiously” tried to wave on the cars in front of that van, but he was not fast enough. The driver and passenger hopped out and tried to escape from inspectors who ran to arrest them.
Witnesses noted that Jones did not try to apprehend the smugglers. He was just frozen in his booth, “paralyzed with fear,” prosecutors said.
That drug seizure is still the largest ever taken at the San Ysidro port.
Jones was indicted and arrested in 2010 on bribery and drug and immigrant smuggling charges.
Duffy said a dozen witnesses spoke against Jones at his trial, including his ex-wife, who recruited him to be a smuggler; a financial adviser who said he helped Jones hide his illegal profits; a former colleague who was also on the smugglers’ payroll and other co-conspirators.
During that trial, prosecutors showed data that proved Jones allowed known drug trafficking vehicles and drivers to pass through his lanes for years without a second look.
Jones was ultimately convicted of conspiracy to commit offenses against the U.S. and attempted importation of marijuana.
On Monday, he acknowledged that he waived his right to appeal.
“The actions that Lorne Jones has been convicted of tarnish the badge he wore, and I’m appreciative of the work done to bring him to justice,” said CBP Director of Field Operations Pete Flores.
Flores said his CBP officers are hard-working professionals who protect the border, and no corruption will be tolerated.