Ex-immigration agent accused of cocaine smuggling

PHOENIX -- A former high-ranking U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who was stationed in Mexico before retiring in 2007 was arrested Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the U.S.

Richard Padilla Cramer was arrested at his home in Green Valley, Ariz., 25 miles south of Tucson, and appeared before a federal judge, who denied bail.

No one answered the phone at Cramer's home Friday and it was unclear whether he had a lawyer.

The charges stem from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency investigation dating back to 2006.

Authorities say Cramer helped a large-scale drug trafficking organization move cocaine into the United States, according to a criminal complaint made public Friday.

The complaint says that Cramer provided members of a drug smuggling organization with information from confidential law enforcement databases that told them whether one of their members was a government informant.

The complaint also says Cramer and the smuggling organization invested about $400,000 in a 660-pound shipment of cocaine. The cocaine was shipped from Panama and went through the U.S. en route to Spain, where it was seized in June 2007.

An informant told DEA agents that Cramer had "very powerful friends" among DEA agents in Mexico and a strong relationship with one particular member of the smuggling organization, according to the complaint.

The complaint also says that during an August 2007 meeting, a member of the smuggling organization convinced Cramer to retire from ICE and begin working directly for the organization in drug smuggling and money laundering.

The case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami, where federal prosecutors say the majority of the acts occurred. Authorities say Cramer will be extradited to Florida.

Cramer was the former resident agent in charge of the ICE office in Nogales in southern Arizona, according to agency spokesman Vincent Picard, who did not know how long Cramer worked there or how many agents he oversaw.

"It's a criminal complaint, not a conviction," Picard said.

An Associated Press investigation recently found that U.S. law officers who work the border are being charged with criminal corruption in numbers not seen before, as drug and immigrant smugglers use money and sometimes sex to buy protection, and internal investigators crack down.

Based on Freedom of Information Act requests, interviews with sentenced agents and a review of court records, the AP tallied corruption-related convictions against more than 80 enforcement officials at all levels - federal, state and local - since 2007

It's unclear if any of them ranked as high as Cramer, and Picard said his agency did not have that information.