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U.S. soldiers arrested for allegedly smuggling illegal immigrants
Officials hint at possible wider U.S. military-based smuggling operation
U.S. authorities are investigating an illegal immigrant smuggling operation allegedly run by active duty military soldiers out of the Ft. Bliss U.S. Army post in El Paso, Texas.
Joseph Cleveland, a U.S. soldier arrested in alleged smuggling ring. Photo: US Government
According to sources and documents, two U.S. soldiers, Marco Antonio Nava, Jr. and Joseph Cleveland, were arrested last Saturday by border patrol officers at Falfurrias, Texas Border Patrol Station Checkpoint attempting to smuggle two Mexican citizens into the U.S. The Mexicans were riding in the back seat of the car. Upon their arrest, the soldiers, who were not in uniform at the time, informed Border Patrol agents they are part of the 377 TC Company at Ft. Bliss.
Nava told investigators it was the second time that he and Cleveland had smuggled in illegal immigrants for pay and, during a debriefing, described a smuggling ring allegedly involving other Ft. Bliss soldiers. Nava identified a leader of the group as a Private First Class, as well as other participants. He said he wasn’t sure how long the ring had been operating. Attempts to seek comment and information from Ft. Bliss were not successful. Ft. Bliss is headquarters for the non-military El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC), a federal tactical operational intelligence center, which is a Drug Enforcement Administration facility that serves as “a clearinghouse for intelligence of interest to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies around the country.”
Nava stated that one week before his arrest, the group of Ft. Bliss soldiers successfully smuggled six illegal immigrants through the Falfurrias Checkpoint. When questioned how they did it,
“Nava stated that all of the aliens were simply sitting inside the vehicles with them.”
The illegal immigrants had been picked up at a trailer, then dropped off at a house 30 minutes north of Houston, Texas. According to Nava, each of the soldiers involved was paid $1,000 cash for that successful smuggling trip. They were to be paid $1,500 for the June 18 run a week later that Border Patrol agents intercepted. Border agents were able to review text messages exchanged between six soldier smugglers.
This isn’t the first time military troops have been linked to human trafficking across the Mexican border, according to internal documents. One government official stated,
“I know we had previously received reports that military personnel were involved in smuggling…”
According to internal government documents, the border has been something of a revolving door for the two Mexican citizens arrested in the June 19 attempt. Jose Rebollar-Osorio had three prior removals from the U.S. on record. Marcelino Oliveros-Padilla also had three prior removals as well as an immigration-related conviction.
Requests for comment were referred to Homeland Security Investigations, which is said to be handling the probe. A spokesman did not immediately provide additional information.
Government documents have listed EPIC as a participating agency in some alleged gunwalking Fast and Furious-related cases. An EPIC spokesman explained it is a national intelligence center and provides information/data to vetted users as authorized/needed.
The original version of this story incorrectly described EPIC is an Army facility. DEA officials clarify that although EPIC operates on a military base, it is not a military operation.
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