On June 20, 2012, officials of the City of Nogales, an Arizona town on the Mexican border, called a meeting of employees of the Streets Department. When all were assembled, federal agents arrived and arrested three of the workers on charges of smuggling marijuana in the fall of 2009.
Forty-year-old Eduardo Bojorquez-Obeso, 47-year-old Francisco Islas Jr., and 30-year-old Francisco Rene Fuentes were arrested. They were accused of conspiring to help smuggle marijuana. Although the investigation was the work of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, the case was prosecuted by the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s office.
The ICE agent who led the investigation of the case, Eduardo Cota, had a surveillance video that showed Bojorquez-Obeso and Fuentes constructing containers to smuggle marijuana. Islas was present in the video, but was not taking part in the construction.
In January 2013, Islas and Fuentes pled guilty to one count each of solicitation to unlawfully transport marijuana for sale. Islas was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years’ probation. Fuentes was sentenced to 180 days in jail and four years’ probation.
In September 2013, as Bojorquez-Obeso neared trial, the Santa Cruz District Attorney’s office abruptly dismissed the charges against him and disclosed that Cota had filed reports that were misleading and omitted critical facts.
It was not until just before Bojorquez-Obeso’s trial that Cota for the first time produced a second surveillance videotape that Cota had claimed showed Bojorquez-Obeso involved in drug-related activity. However, the video also showed Cota’s informant, whom Cota had previously maintained was not taking part in the drug activity. Islas, according to Islas’ attorney, wasn’t even in the video, as Cota had previously claimed.
In a letter to Islas’ and Fuentes’ attorneys, Chief Deputy County Attorney Liliana Ortega said the prosecution “has reason to believe that ICE Agent Eduardo Cota made misrepresentations and material omissions to the prosecutor, defense counsel and in his report.”
As a result, Islas was allowed to withdraw his plea on November 12, 2013 and the charge against him was dismissed. Fuentes had failed to appear at his parole office earlier in the year and could not be located.
The prosecutor filed a report with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Cota was relieved of active duty pending an internal investigation.
– Maurice Possley