BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Three soldiers from Fort Hood have been arrested in an ongoing investigation related to transporting and harboring illegal aliens, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.
This investigation is being led by U.S. immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Border Patrol.
"HSI is dedicated to working closely with its law enforcement partners in all arenas in pursuit of identifying, arresting and prosecuting individuals involved in human smuggling, regardless of their position." said Janice Ayala, special agent in charge of HSI San Antonio. "Today's arrests exemplify the high level of collaboration between HSI and its partners in investigating these cases."
According to court documents, the indictment charges Eric Alexander Rodriguez, 20, Brandon Troy Robbins, 20, and Christopher David Wix, 21, all active-duty U.S. Army soldiers stationed at Fort Hood. Also named in the indictment is Arnoldo Gracia, 45, an alleged alien smuggler from the Harlingen, Texas, area.
The seven-count indictment was returned Oct. 7; it was unsealed Thursday upon the arrests of Rodriguez, Robbins and Wix at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Gracia was arrested Wednesday in Harlingen. He made his initial appearance Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ignacio Torteya and was ordered to remain in custody pending a hearing set for Oct. 14. The remaining defendants are 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, Texas, was initially arrested Sept. 11 after allegedly trying to smuggle two illegal aliens passed the immigration checkpoint in Sarita, Texas. Rodriguez made an initial appearance Sept. 17, at which time an HSI special agent testified that Rodriguez had arrived at the checkpoint driving a Chevrolet truck dressed in his military uniform. When agents searched the rear seat area of the truck, two illegal aliens were allegedly found hidden under a bed sheet and military jacket which displayed the name tag of Rodriguez.
The indictment also charges two earlier incidents which allegedly occurred in a similar manner as that of the Sept. 11 attempt involving Rodriguez. Robbins is charged with transporting two aliens April 13; Wix is charged with transporting two aliens June 21. Gracia is alleged to be a member of the smuggling conspiracy and charged with aiding and abetting the three Fort Hood soldiers in commission of the offenses.
If convicted, each faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Oscar Ponce, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.