Defendants enter guilty pleas in case involving border agents

(MGN Online)

A group of four people were found to have allegedly worked in concert with U.S. Border Patrol agents to move drugs and smuggle people through a checkpoint, records show.

As of this week, two of those defendants face sentencing after they pleaded guilty to their respective charges, the record shows.

According to a nine-count indictment, Oberlin Cortez Pena, a Border Patrol agent, and four others; Kristian Nicole West, Herbey Jose Solis III, Jose Luis Duran and Edwin Alejandro Castillo, allegedly worked together to move drugs and undocumented people past the Falfurrias checkout undetected.

The indictment also makes note of another unnamed Border Patrol agent who allegedly received $2,000 from Duran and Castillo in order to smuggle undocumented persons through the checkpoint. The agent is referred to by the initials “M.O.”

In July, Border Patrol agent Oberlin Cortez Pena was charged with helping people bypass a Border Patrol checkpoint by providing them with information that would allow them to cross without detection.

Cortez, a Border Patrol agent assigned to the Falfurrias checkpoint, was charged with attempting to aid and abet possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance after a nearly month-long internal investigation led to his arrest July 9.

In June, special agents with the U.S Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General “developed a cooperator” to make contact with Cortez.

On June 21, Cortez allegedly communicated with the federal cooperator and arranged to work as “counter surveillance” for the cooperator for $500. The cooperator told Cortez he was trying to smuggle an undocumented man through the Falfurrias checkpoint, the complaint stated.

“(Cortez), a U.S. Border Patrol Agent, said he would drive ahead on his way to work and communicate which checkpoint lane to smuggle the (undocumented man) through,” the document stated.

The following day, Cortez met the cooperator at a mall in McAllen.

The charges allege that on two different and separate occasions, Cortez accepted $1,000 in exchange for helping a vehicle with at least 5 kilos of cocaine pass through the Falfurrias checkpoint.

Cortez allegedly used his knowledge as an agent in acting as a scout and providing information about the inspection lanes, and which ones to use to get through with narcotics.

According to the complaint, the 22-year-old man also gave detailed instructions on how to conceal the drugs and tactics to employ in order to distract the K-9 unit at the checkpoint.

If convicted, he faces a minimum of 10 years up to life in federal prison as well as a possible $10 million maximum fine.

Last week, West and Solis pleaded guilty to one count each of the charges of bringing in and harboring, related to the attempt to bring in several undocumented people into the country.

West, 31, of Corpus Christi, was arrested June 14 after a sheriff’s deputy pulled him over and discovered several people as passengers in his vehicle. It was determined the people traveling with West did not have legal status to be in the U.S.

One of West’s passengers, Solis, 28, of Mission, was also implicated in the attempted smuggling attempt, records show.

West declined to provide a statement to authorities, while Solis allegedly told authorities he was going to be paid $1,000 for transporting the people in the vehicle, the complaint states.

West and Solis are set for sentencing in October, records show.

Additionally, Duran, and Castillo, were also implicated working with Cortez in the indictment, and were charged with federal graft charges for allegedly paying Border Patrol agent “M.O.,” with $2,000 cash.

Last week, Duran and Castillo each pleaded not guilty to all the charges they faced, three counts of graft, and four counts of smuggling persons into the country, records show.

A jury trial is set for next month for both Duran and Castillo, records show.

The Monitor reached out to CBP officials who declined to comment on the current case.

[email protected]