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Senator: Investigate Border Patrol Official's Ties To Drug-Smuggling Brother

A Republican senator is demanding an investigation into whether the Border Patrol in Arizona protected a smuggler with an extensive criminal history because of his alleged ties to a high-level Border Patrol official.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) asked the Office of Inspector General for Homeland Security to look into whether the brother of former Tucson Sector Chief Manuel Padilla was smuggling narcotics through Arizona and whether the former Tucson sector chief knew about it.

Manuel Padilla is now sector chief in the Rio Grande Valley; he led the Tucson sector between 2013 and 2015. According to the senator’s July 26 letter to OIG, Padilla’s brother Miguel Angel Padilla Heredia, a Mexican national, was interviewed by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in San Bernardino, Calif. in January 2015.

In the interview, Heredia Padilla told agents he was eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the 2012 executive order that created relief from deportation for some people living in the U.S. illegally. Johnson said an immigration judge ordered Padilla Heredia to be deported in October 2012 at the Nogales port of entry.

In December 2013, Heredia Padilla was arrested at the Border Patrol’s checkpoint on Interstate 19 in Arizona.

“It is unknown what occurred during this specific transaction, and whether this was the first instance in which Mr. Padilla attempted to smuggle narcotics into the United States,” Johnson wrote.

He also noted that Padilla Heredia has a lengthy criminal record, including robbery, drug smuggling and aggravated felony charges.

“Is this the first time your office has received concerns about Mr. Miguel Angel Padilla Heredia? If not, please explain in detail what concerns your office received and the disposition of those concerns,” Johnson wrote.

He also asked the OIG: “At any time, did Chief Patrol Agent Manuel Padilla Jr., have any influence on Miguel Angel Padilla Heredia’s immigration status?”

He also asked the OIG to find whether Padilla self reported his relationship to Padilla Heredia and whether the former Tucson Sector chief had ever been investigated by CBP’s Internal Affairs for his brother’s criminal activities.

Federal court records show that a Miguel Angel Padilla Heredia was arrested at the I-19 checkpoint on December 16, 2013.

According to the criminal complaint, agents found about 80 pounds of marijuana in his white Chevrolet Lumina and said he admitted that he was transporting the marijuana from Nogales, Ariz., to Tucson. Padilla Heredia was indicted and eventually pleaded guilty to one count and was sentenced in September 2014 to 15 months in prison with credit for time served.

Johnson did not specify whether this was the same Miguel Angel Padilla Heredia in his letter to OIG. He asked the OIG to provide him details of the arrest.

The senator said he is concerned that Padilla headed the Tucson Sector while his brother entered the country illegally.

It’s not the first time a relative of a high level Tucson Sector official has been accused of smuggling in southern Arizona.

In October 2013, the sister of Jeffrey Self, then commander of the Border Patrol’s Arizona Joint Field Command, the network command center for the agency’s Tucson and Yuma sectors as well as the ports of entry, was arrested for smuggling a Mexican national near Why, Ariz. She was sentenced weeks later to 30 days in prison.

Customs and Border Protection did not respond to repeated requests for an interview for this story.

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.