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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Soldiers Busted in Alien-Smuggling Ring

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) - Three Fort Hood soldiers are behind bars, accused of conspiring to harbor and transport undocumented aliens.

The seven-count indictment, unsealed Thursday, charges active-duty soldiers Eric Alexander Rodriguez, 20, Brandon Troy Robbins, 20, and Christopher David Wix, 21, with transporting and harboring illegal aliens across South Texas checkpoints.

A fourth man, Arnoldo Gracia, 45, of the Rio Grande Valley, is also charged with alien smuggling, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Robbins and Wix were arrested Thursday at Ft. Hood in Killeen. They were expected to make an initial appearance Friday in Waco before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey C. Manske.

The indictment alleges one count of conspiracy to transport and harbor aliens, and six counts of transporting aliens.

Rodriguez, of Odem, pop. 2,400, outside of Corpus Christi, was arrested on Sep. 11, as he smuggled people through the Sarita checkpoint, on Highway 77, about 150 miles north of the border, prosecutors said.

A Homeland Security Investigations agent who testified at Rodriguez's initial appearance in September said the soldier arrived at the checkpoint driving a Chevrolet truck and wearing his military uniform. When agents searched the rear area of the truck, they found two undocumented aliens hiding under a bed sheet and military jacket which displayed Rodriguez's name tag, according to court documents.

The indictment charges Robbins and Wix with two earlier, similar incidents.

Robbins is charged with transporting two aliens on April 13 while Wix is charged with transporting two aliens on June 21.

Gracia is alleged to be a member of the smuggling conspiracy and is charged with aiding and abetting the three soldiers in commission of the offenses. He was arraigned Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ignacio Torteya and ordered to remain in custody pending an Oct. 14 hearing.

If convicted, each man faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 fine.

The Sarita checkpoint, on the outskirts of the sprawling King Ranch, has been the end of the road for many a traveler.

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