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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, December 01, 2016 10:00 pm

Soldiers admit to migrant smuggling

Kristine Guerra | Washington Post

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 replied "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.