A trio of National Guard soldiers assigned to help stop illegal immigration in South Texas instead ran an immigrant smuggling operation using cell phone text messages, according to court records filed Monday by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Laredo.
In a series of text messages uncovered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents after Pfc. Jose Rodrigo Torres was arrested on Thursday, the three soldiers allegedly negotiated the details, price and number of people who would be smuggled north, the complaint said.
"Tell them ill only do 1 run no more than 20 people $150 a person and i want 2 leave 1930 hrs and ill go 2 San Anto if they want," Torres typed to Sgt. Clarence Hodge Jr. hours before Torres was arrested along Interstate 35 near Cotulla, Texas, about 68 miles north of the border, according to the complaint.
A message later that day from Sgt. Julio Cesar Pacheco instructed Torres that a trip was a go, with a promised payment of $3,500 for the delivery of 24 illegal immigrants.
"24 will b tuff 2 fit but ill try," Torres wrote in response, the complaint said.
The 24 immigrants, at least five of whom were Mexican nationals, did fit in the van that was waved through a Border Patrol checkpoint before later being stopped along the highway.
Torres, 26, of Laredo, told federal investigators that it was his seventh immigrant smuggling trip. Torres implicated 36-year-old Hodge, a Fort Worth resident, as the soldier who waved his van through the checkpoint.
According to interviews immigration authorities conducted with some of the immigrants, Torres told the group to stay down and be quiet inside the vehicle. One woman, a Mexican national, told investigators she paid $1,500 to be taken to Dallas.
Investigators say Hodge pointed to Pacheco, 26, of Laredo, as the man who recruited and paid him. Hodge told investigators he had been paid for helping smuggle a load of immigrants in May but the men had not worked out payment for the most recent load.
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