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July 01, 2006
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Border agents under investigation vanish

The Associated Press

SAN DIEGO- Two U.S. Border Patrol agents under investigation for smuggling migrants and drugs into the United States have disappeared, a federal law enforcement official said Friday.

Authorities fear the agents, who are brothers, were tipped off to the probe and fled, perhaps to Mexico, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

The investigation was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Homeland Security Department's Office of the Inspector General.

The Los Angeles Times reported on its Web site late Friday that Border Patrol spokesman Damon Foreman identified the agents as Raul and Fidel Villarreal. Foreman said they were under investigation for suspected smuggling activity and resigned.

Border Patrol spokesman Richard Kite said he could not discuss criminal probes when he was asked if the Villarreals were under investigation. Michael Unzueta, special agent in charge of ICE investigations in San Diego, confirmed the investigation and said no arrests have been made.

The agents were suspected of working for Mexican-based organizations to smuggle Mexicans and Brazilians into the United States, the source said. They allegedly picked up migrants who crossed the border on their own while they were on patrol and took them to a driver.

The brothers didn't show up for work Monday and later told supervisors they were quitting because of a family illness, the source said.

The Times said the Villarreals did not respond to a request for comment. A woman who identified herself as their mother at their home in National City said she did not know when they would return.

The investigation comes less than a month after two customs officers at San Diego border crossings were charged with waiving cars loaded with illegal immigrants in exchange for cash.

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