MIA customs officer faces charges of accepting bribes

Sep. 13--A veteran U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer is charged with accepting $1,000 a pop from several Brazilian nationals in exchange for allowing them through Miami International Airport, authorities said Wednesday.

Ronald H. Merker, a MIA passport control officer, took money from at least four Brazilians, according to an indictment.

But investigators said the total number of alleged bribes could be much higher -- possibly in the dozens -- as the probe continues into the suspected migrant-smuggling ring.

"They were going through the line for U.S. citizens," FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela said.

"Merker allowed them to go through the line for illegal payments," she said.

Merker, who has been employed as an immigration officer since 1983, was charged in an indictment this week.

Three other men -- Clodoaldo Ribeiro, Sidney Herberth Sathler and Alair Campos -- also were charged as actors in the alleged conspiracy.

Customs and Border Protection spokesman Zachary Mann said Merker was pulled off his job while the investigation continues.

The alleged scheme lasted from Oct. 31, 2005 until July 25, 2007, according to the indictment.

"We take issues like this very seriously and consider it a direct insult to the honest officers protecting the borders of our nation," said Mann, who declined further comment.

Merker worked in the passport control section at Concourse E, one of the busiest foreign traveler inspection stations in the country.

More than 18,000 foreign travelers, carrying passports, visas and other documents, go through the site daily.

There are separate processing lines for U.S. citizens and foreign visitors.

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