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Updated Apr 10, 2013 - 4:17 pm

Arizona border agent pleads guilty to drug-related gun charge

PHOENIX -- A U.S. Border Patrol agent who admitted smuggling marijuana while on duty along the Arizona-Mexico border has pleaded guilty to a felony drug-related gun charge.

The possible punishment for Agent Aaron Anaya, 25, ranges from a mandatory five-year minimum sentence up to life in prison for his guilty plea Wednesday to possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense.

Authorities say investigators conducting aerial surveillance in southwestern Arizona saw Anaya load marijuana bundles that had been dropped over the border fence from Mexico into his patrol vehicle on Dec. 2 in between Yuma and Wellton, about 185 miles southwest of Phoenix. Anaya was wearing his Border Patrol uniform at the time.

Investigators say they tracked Anaya for several hours as he appeared to return to normal duties and later found nearly 147 pounds of marijuana in back of the agency's patrol vehicle.

As part of his plea, Anaya admitted that he would have used service weapons- a handgun and rifle- that he carried while on duty to protect himself and the marijuana load if a situation had arisen in which rival traffickers would have tried to steal the drugs. Anaya didn't fire the guns when he was in possession of the marijuana.

Federal Magistrate David K. Duncan asked Anaya whether the allegations against him were true. ``Yes sir,'' said Anaya, dressed in a black and white striped jail suit.

Attorneys on both sides agreed to a five-year sentence, though the decision on punishment is ultimately up to U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver, who is set to sentence the agent on June 24.

The Border Patrol said Anaya is still employed with the agency but is on indefinite suspension without pay.

The plea agreement requires prosecutors to dismiss four other charges, including marijuana importation, against Anaya once he is sentenced.

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