MURRIETA, CA (The Press-Enterprise) – A Homeland Security Investigations agent from Murrieta has been convicted in federal court of aiding a Mexican national with a criminal record to re-enter the United States, an action federal agents said was done at the bidding of the leader of a Southern California organized crime group.
Felix Cisneros Jr., 44, faces a possible maximum of 20 years in federal prison after he was convicted by jurors Monday of conspiracy, acting as an agent for another person in a matter affecting the government, falsification of records in a federal investigation and making false statements.
He was acquitted on two obstruction of justice counts. The Homeland Security Investigations agency is a branch of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Cisneros, an 11-year veteran of ICE, is now on indefinite suspension from HSI.
Prosecutors told jurors during the four-day trial that Cisneros agreed to help a friend’s business associate, a man named Santiago Garcia-Gutierrez, overcome hurdles that would have prevented Garcia-Gutierrez from legally entering the United States after he had traveled to Mexico City in September 2013, a news release from the government said.
A government document filed before trial said that in early 2016, Garcia-Gutierrez “began working for DHS Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) as a confidential informant. On May 12, 2016, defendant met Garcia at a restaurant, and their conversation was recorded.”
During that conversation, Cisneros “acknowledged the assistance he had previously provided (Garcia-Gutierrez) in entering the United States,” the document said, but Cisneros also declined to help Garcia-Gutierrez the same way again because “[t]here’s too much … dirt after the fact.”
Instead, Cisneros stated “that he knew people who could help (Garcia-Gutierrez) cross the border near Tijuana in a helicopter or in the trunk of a car.” Cisneros also told Garcia-Gutierrez that if he said anything, Cisneros “would ‘bury’ him.”
The trial document only identified the person who sought Cisneros’ help as “Individual A,” and that Garcia-Gutierrez was a business associate of that person. An affidavit filed when Cisneros was arrested said the agent was working at the behest of the leader of a Southern California organized crime group.
Garcia-Gutierrez had been a lawful permanent resident of the United States, but prior criminal convictions and an outstanding warrant for his arrest would block his return. His Mexican passport and his “green card” work permit had been seized by federal authorities when he tried to re-enter the United States two months earlier.
But Garcia-Gutierrez was temporarily allowed to return to the United States — paroled in — while his criminal case was resolved.
Cisneros, the government said, persuaded United States Customs and Border Protection agents to return Garcia-Gutierrez’s passport and ensured that Garcia-Gutierrez would be able to return after the September 2013 trip to Mexico City. Cisneros also urged the CBP to extend Garcia-Gutierrez’s parole status. He took those actions, the government said, knowing about the man’s previous convictions.
Cisneros used a law enforcement database that disclosed Garcia-Gutierrez’s past criminal record, and that Garcia-Gutierrez was suspected of participating in illegal activities. Cisneros also failed to disclose during a routine background investigation that he knew Garcia-Gutierrez, the government said.
Cisneros is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder on July 30.