McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A former U.S. Border Patrol agent must serve 10 years in prison for his part in a drug smuggling scheme through a South Texas checkpoint.
Oberlin Cortez Peña Jr., 23, of La Joya, Texas, was sentenced Friday by U.S. District Judge Randy Crane in McAllen, the Justice Department said.
Peña pleaded guilty on Dec. 17, 2021, to attempting to aid and abet smuggling cocaine through the Falfurrias checkpoint, according to U.S. Attorney Alamdar Hamdani.
During a hearing, Peña told the court that he had been in possession of an AR-15 rifle for use to hunt hogs, but prosecutors said it was brandished while meeting with co-defendant Edwin Alejandro Castillo in planning “the smuggling of a second load of cocaine through the Falfurrias BP checkpoint,” according to a news release.
In handing down the sentence, Crane found his explanation “unconvincing and assessed a sentencing enhancement for possession of a firearm during drug trafficking,” the news release says.
At the time of his plea, Peña admitted that twice he helped smuggle over five kilograms of cocaine through the Falfurrias checkpoint using the information he had as a Border Patrol agent to direct loads through particular checkpoint lanes. The Justice Department says he also acted as a scout and provided information about the inspection lanes and which ones to use. He also gave detailed instructions on how to conceal drugs and distract canine units.
“Honest law enforcement is a cornerstone of public trust,” Hamdani said. “This defendant violated his oath to defend the Constitution, and he betrayed that trust to engage in criminal activity for financial gain. Today’s sentence is a message that we will aggressively investigate and prosecute allegations of law enforcement corruption and continue to seek significant sentences when necessary to protect the public and their trust in our institutions.”
Four others have been convicted as part of the investigation. Kristian Nicole West, 33, of Corpus Christi, and Herbey Jose Solis III, 29, of Mission, pleaded guilty to alien smuggling. Castillo, 24, of Sullivan City, and Jose Luis Duran, 26, of Mission, admitted to smuggling illegal migrants. Duran was also convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery. They each received 36 months in prison.
Peña had been out on bond but was taken into custody in December after being found in possession of a firearm at a ranch.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com