By SUZANNE GAMBOA
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON- The head of Customs and Border Protection refused to criticize the prosecution of two Border Patrol agents sentenced to federal prison for wounding a Mexican man who later admitted he is a drug smuggler.
Commissioner Ralph Basham said in an interview to be televised Sunday in the United States that the agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, were convicted by a jury, and "I'm not going to criticize that."
Basham, a 35-year veteran of the Secret Service, said integrity is the most important ingredient for law enforcement.
"If the American public doesn't have confidence in America's law enforcement agencies, then we've failed," said Basham, whose agency is part of the Homeland Security Department.
Ramos was sentenced to 11 years and one day, while Compean was ordered to serve 12 years in prison for shooting Osvaldo Aldrete Davila, a Mexican citizen, in the buttocks as he fled across the Rio Grande.
Aldrete later admitted to investigators that he was smuggling drugs. But the prosecutor in the case said there was no evidence to link him to a van load of marijuana. The prosecutor also said agents did not report the shooting and tampered with evidence by picking up several spent shell casings.
Several members of Congress have called for a congressional investigation of the prosecutions and support for the agents has swelled largely through conservative radio talk shows.
White House press secretary Tony Snow was asked Friday whether the president will answer a letter written by 12 Republicans asking that the sentencing be investigated.
"Let's wait and see what the hearing produces," Snow said in the White House news briefing. "I believe you have 12 people who want to have a hearing, and we'll be interested in seeing what those hearings provide."
The convictions are part of a vexing dilemma confronting the nation's immigration work force. The Associated Press reported last month that more than 600 criminal probes of immigration employees nationwide have been launched this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Other agencies also are dealing with similar problems of officers taking lucrative bribes to allow illegal immigrants or drugs to enter the country or to approve citizenship or other immigration benefits for ineligible people.
Customs and Border Protection is forming corps of investigators to police its work force
Meanwhile, Basham said he is emphasizing integrity among his workers.
"These agents and officers work in probably the highest threat environment in the world for corruption, and it's something that I am very conscious of," he said. "We are working very hard to make sure that our work force understands: we have zero tolerance."
On the Net: Customs and Border Protection: http://www.cbp.gov
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