Two U.S. Army soldiers plead guilty to smuggling undocumented immigrants from Mexico
Two Army soldiers are facing up to a decade each in federal prison after they admitted they agreed to smuggle undocumented immigrants through a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in exchange for $1,500.
Marco Antonio Nava Jr., 19, and Joseph Edmond Cleveland, 25, both of El Paso, pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday, five months after they were caught driving two Mexican men through an immigration checkpoint in South Texas, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of Texas.
The soldiers drove to the checkpoint about 75 miles north of the border on June 18 with the two Mexican men, Marcelino Oliveros-Padilla and Jose Osorio-Rebollar, in the back passenger seats.
During an immigration inspection, a patrol agent asked Oliveros-Padilla in English where he was going, to which he responded “San Antonio,” according to court records.
When the agent, again in English, asked him his name, Oliveros-Padilla again “San Antonio.” The agent then asked Oliveros-Padilla in Spanish if he spoke English, to which he replied “no.”
All four men were arrested at the checkpoint.
The Mexican men told authorities they crossed into the United States illegally on a raft eight days earlier and had been moved to two different trailer homes. A person in one of the trailer homes, who was not identified in court records, told the men that someone would pick them up on June 18 and drive them to Houston.
Court records say the two Mexican men were picked up around 1 p.m. that day in a black Mazda driven by Nava, the teenage soldier.
The Mexican men were told there would be an immigration checkpoint, and they were coached how to answer questions they were likely to be asked by border patrol agents. Several hours later, they arrived at the checkpoint south of the town of Falfurrias and about 70 miles north of the border city of McAllen.
Nava and Cleveland were released, but the soldiers were arrested again in October after they were indicted by a grand jury on two counts of bringing in and harboring illegal immigrants.
They told authorities that they were approached by a man who offered to give them $1,500 if they drove to the Rio Grande Valley and smuggled two undocumented immigrants through the checkpoint.
The soldiers were stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso and assigned to the 377th Transportation Company, 1st Armored Division, according to ABC affiliate KVIA.
Nava, a private first class, was a motor transport operator and had been awarded an Army Service Ribbon, according to the Pentagon. Cleveland was a specialist, KVIA reported.
Nava and Cleveland, who have been out on bond, both pleaded guilty to one of two counts and are facing up to 10 years each in federal prison in addition to a maximum of $250,000 in fines. They also could be placed on probation for up to three years.
The two men are scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 9. A federal judge, who is not bound by the terms of the plea agreement, can choose to sentence Nava and Cleveland to more than 10 years each.
Court records offer very few details about why the Mexican men came to the United States. The man who offered money to Nava and Cleveland was not identified in court records, and the specific locations of the trailer homes where the Mexican men stayed are unknown.
A spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that because the Mexican men are witnesses in the pending criminal case against the soldiers, no further information about them will be released.
The U.S. Border Patrol arrests hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants at the coastal, northern and southwestern borders every year.
In 2000, border patrol agents apprehended 1.6 million undocumented immigrants — an average of nearly 140,000 a month. About 337,000, or roughly 28,000 a month, were arrested last year.