EL PASO – She lived a double life. At the border crossing, she was Agent Garnica, a veteran law enforcement officer. In the shadows, she was “La Estrella,” the star, a brassy looker who helped drug cartels make a mockery of the U.S. border.
Martha Garnica devised secret codes, passed stacks of cash through car windows and sketched out a map for smugglers to safely haul drugs and undocumented workers across the border. For that she was richly rewarded; she lived in a spacious house with a built-in pool, owned two Hummers and vacationed in Europe.
For years, until an intricate sting operation brought her down in late 2009, Garnica embodied the seldom-discussed role of the United States in the trafficking trade.
Cartels based in Mexico, where there is a long history of corruption, increasingly rely on well-placed operatives such as Garnica to reach their huge customer base in the United States. It is an argument often made by Mexican officials – that all the attention paid to corruption in their country has obscured a similar, growing problem on the U.S. side of the border.
The cartels have grown so sophisticated, law enforcement officials say, that they are employing Cold War-era spy tactics to recruit and corrupt U.S. officials.