YUMA, Ariz. --- A federal grand jury on Tuesday returned drug charges against a U.S. Border Patrol agent who was caught loading 745 pounds of marijuana into his service vehicle.
Fellow agents discovered Michael Angelo Atondo on April 4 with his Border Patrol vehicle backed up against the U.S.-Mexico border fence in a remote desert area east of San Luis, Ariz. Atondo was supposed to be on duty patrolling Interstate 8, an area known for heavy smuggling activity. When the agents approached, two Jeep Cherokees parked on the Mexican side of the fence fled south, according to court filings.
A search of Atondo's service vehicle revealed 44 packages of marijuana in the rear compartment used for transporting illegal aliens. The bundles weighed about 745 pounds and had an estimated wholesale value of $371,000, prosecutors said.
The grand jury indicted Atondo, who has been released from custody, for conspiracy to commit importation of marijuana, importation of marijuana, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana and possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
Atondo faces 5 to 40 years on each count, plus a maximum fine of $2 million.