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U.S. soldiers arrested in alleged illegal immigration smuggling ring

FILE - Fort Bliss entrance. U.S. soldiers arrested for allegedly smuggling illegal immigrants across Texas border over the weekend. (MGN Online)

U.S. authorities are investigating an illegal immigrantion smuggling operation allegedly run by active duty military soldiers out of the Ft. Bliss U.S. Army post in El Paso, Texas. Ft. Bliss is headquarters for El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC), a federal tactical operational intelligence center.

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 Falfurias, 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.

"We are aware that two Fort Bliss Soldiers have been arrested," Mike Brantley, a spokesman for Fort Bliss, said. "We can confirm they are both assigned to the 377 Transportation Company here; however, as this is an ongoing investigation we cannot comment further."

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.

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.

The Army's Ft. Bliss El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) was involved in Fast and Furious-related cases in which the Justice Department secretly allowed thousands of weapons to be trafficked to Mexican drug cartels.

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