San Diego • A federal judge on Friday sentenced two brothers who worked as Border Patrol agents to at least 30 years in prison for smuggling hundreds of immigrants into the United States.
U.S. District Court Judge John Houston sentenced Raul Villarreal to 35 years for leading the smuggling ring. His brother, Fidel Villarreal, was sentenced to 30 years for managing the operation.
The sentences are among the longest given to border law enforcement officials.
Houston said he gave the severe sentences to deter others. The judge called their smuggling operation "disgusting" and a threat to national security.
The brothers were accused of helping more than 500 migrants cross the border from Mexico.
Prosecutors said Raul Villarreal who made television appearances as an agency spokesman and once played the role of a smuggler in a public service ad recruited his brother to his ring that smuggled in Mexicans and Brazilians. One Brazilian woman told investigators she paid $12,000 to cross. Federal officials said they also took bribes from public officials.
The federal probe began in May 2005 when an informant tipped off the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Investigators installed cameras in areas where migrants were dropped off, planted recording devices and placed tracking instruments on Border Patrol vehicles.