McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A federal judge on Monday ordered a U.S. Border Patrol agent from the Rio Grande Valley Sector to be held in custody pending a Thursday bond hearing on charges that he helped pass drugs through the largest South Texas border checkpoint twice.
Border Patrol Agent Oberlin Cortez Peña Jr., 22, of La Joya, Texas, is charged with taking $1,000 in exchange for helping a vehicle carrying over five kilograms of cocaine to pass through the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas on two different occasions in Brooks County.
“On June 25 as well as July 9 the transportation of over 5 kilograms of cocaine through the Falfurrias station that you aided and abetted that transportation by assisting in helping to get it through the checkpoint while you were on duty as a Border Patrol,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Nadia Medrano, of the U.S. Southern District of Texas in McAllen, told Peña during his initial appearance Monday morning.
The hearing was held via video conference from the jail in Hidalgo County, where Peña is being held.
Peña appeared in an orange jail jumpsuit wearing handcuffs with four other defendants.
Medrano ordered him to remain in custody and set a 2 p.m. bond hearing on Thursday, during which time she said the government will also conduct a probable cause hearing.
In a news release, the U.S. Department of Justice alleges that Peña gave detailed instructions on how to conceal the drugs and tactics to employ in order to distract the K-9 unit at the checkpoint.
The Falfurrias checkpoint in rural Brooks County is about 65 miles north of the Mexican border and is the most heavily trafficked inspection station on the entire Southwest border. It opened in May 2019 and has eight primary inspection lanes and 16 secondary inspection lanes. Prior to the pandemic, it averaged 10,000 vehicles per day, including 2,500 commercial vehicles.
If convicted, Peña faces a minimum of 10 years to life in federal prison and up to a $10 million fine.
The Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility, is assisting with the case.
Peña has hired a local criminal defense lawyer, whom Border Report has reached out to for comment. This story will be updated if additional information is received.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.