Crime

Border Patrol agent pleads guilty to helping smuggle cocaine through checkpoint

A Border Patrol agent from La Joya entered a guilty plea Friday to charges of attempting to aid and abet the smuggling of cocaine through a checkpoint.

Oberlin Cortez Peña, Jr., 22, was facing two charges for trying to help smuggle cocaine through the Falfurrias checkpoint in June.

On Friday, Cortez Peña entered a guilty plea for one of the charges, knowingly and intentionally attempting to aid and abet possession with intent to distribute about 5.9 kilograms of cocaine.

As part of his plea, Peña admitted “he used his knowledge as a BP agent and directed loads through particular checkpoint lanes, further acting as a scout and providing information about the inspection lanes and which one to use,” according to a news release from the Department of Justice. “Peña also gave detailed instructions on how to conceal the drugs and tactics to employ in order to distract the canine unit at the checkpoint.”

The government will drop the second charge, according to the plea agreement conditions.

Cortez Peña’s case began when agents interviewed two people, Kristian Nicole West, 32 of Corpus Christi, and Herbey Jose Solis, 28 of Mission, who were stopped at the Falfurrias checkpoint when they attempted to smuggle in four people on June 14, 2021.

Investigators learned a U.S. Border Patrol Agent was possibly accepting money for facilitating human smuggling through the checkpoint. A cooperator began working with the federal government and met with Cortez Peña in the days that followed.

Through multiple communications, Cortez Peña agreed to conduct countersurveillance and get paid $500 to help coordinate human smuggling attempts. He also agreed later to two $1,000 payments to help drug smugglers cross 5.9 kilograms of cocaine on two occasions through the Falfurrias checkpoint.

Cortez Peña reportedly told the smuggler which lanes to use at which times, where to hide the drugs in the vehicle, tactics to distract the drug-sniffing canine, and suggested dates based on the Border Patrol agents, or BPAs, working that day. 

“The team (BPAs) sucks and that the BPAs are all rookies,” Cortez Peña said, according to the criminal complaint.

One smuggling event took place June 25, and Cortez Peña received the $1,000 payment when he met with the government’s cooperator at a La Joya Whataburger.

A second smuggling event involving another 5.9 kilograms of cocaine and another $1,000 payment was repeated July 9. 

Cortez Peña was permitted to remain on bond pending sentencing, which was scheduled for March 1, 2021. He faces a minimum of 10 years and up to life in federal prison, as well as a possible $10 million maximum fine.

Two other people, Edwin Alejandro Castillo, 23, of Sullivan City, and Jose Luis Duran, 25, of Mission, were also indicted for their part in the bribery and human smuggling.

All four other defendants have been convicted as part of the investigation. Castillo also admitted to bribery, while Duran entered an additional plea to conspiracy to commit bribery.

Written by  Valerie Gonzalez

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