A U.S. Border Patrol agent assigned to a lonely stretch frequented by drug smugglers was arrested with more than 500 pounds of marijuana in his patrol vehicle, authorities said Wednesday.
The agent, Thomas Bair, was arrested early Tuesday in eastern San Diego County after fellow agents told supervisors he was behaving suspiciously, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Rodney Adams said.
Bair was being held without bail, accused of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, federal prosecutors said.
The FBI and the U.S. Justice Department’s internal affairs office also are looking into the case, Adams said. “We are handling this as a standard narcotics smuggling investigation,” he said.
Bair’s defense attorney, Bill Brown, of Federal Defenders of San Diego Inc., did not return repeated calls for comment.
But Bair told one DEA agent he was aware of drug trafficking in the area and had intended to intercept the drugs and become the “hero” of his unit, according to a DEA statement filed in court.
Johnny Williams, chief of the San Diego Border Patrol, said it was the first such arrest in his three years on the job.
“We’ll let the criminal justice system decide his guilt or innocence. It’s not our job to pass judgment,” Williams said. “We are participating 100 percent in the investigation. I’m very proud of the officers who brought this to the attention of their supervisors.”
The arrest occurred at a time when the Border Patrol finds itself at the front lines of the war against large-scale narcotics traffic, which has become deeply entrenched in Mexico.
U.S. officials suspect 70 percent of all illegal narcotics entering the United States now come over the U.S.-Mexico border. A significant portion is believed to move through San Diego, often on lonely back roads like the dirt track outside the U.S. border town of Tecate where the Tuesday incident allegedly began.
The two Border Patrol agents who reported the incident told the DEA they came upon Bair well after midnight on Tecate Mission Road. He seemed to be attempting to kick something under his vehicle, according to the statement of a DEA agent.
Bair was not at his assigned post or with his partner, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat said.