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February 9, 2017Corpus Christi, TX, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

US Army soldier sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for alien smuggling

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — An active-duty U.S. Army soldier was sentenced Thursday to 15 months in federal prison following his conviction for smuggling two illegal aliens through a U.S. Border Patrol (BP) checkpoint.

This sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas; along with Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Houston.

Joseph Edmond Cleveland, 25, of El Paso, Texas, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Janis to 15 months in prison. In handing down the sentence, Judge Jack noted an aggravating factor that Cleveland attempted to use his status as a serviceman to avoid detection. Cleveland will also be required to serve three years of supervised release after he completes his prison term. He pleaded guilty to the charges Nov. 29, 2016.

Cleveland and co-defendant Marco Antonio Nava Jr., 20, also of El Paso, admitted they smuggled two Illegal aliens through the BP checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas. They claimed they were approached by a man who offered to give them $1,500 if they came to the Rio Grande Valley to drive two illegal aliens through the checkpoint. On June 19, 2016, the defendants approached the checkpoint with the two illegal aliens in the vehicle’s rear passenger seats. The BP agent asked one of the passengers if he had documents to be in the United States legally to which the passenger responded “no.”  Both passengers were ultimately found to be aliens unlawfully present in the U.S. and taken into custody.

Upon questioning, the illegal aliens stated they crossed into the country eight days beforehand, and they had been moved to two different trailer homes. On the day of their arrest, they were told by a person in the trailer home that someone was going to come to pick them up and take them Houston. Nava was driving and told them to get into the vehicle. Once inside, the illegal aliens were told they were going to go through an immigration checkpoint and were coached how to answer to the agent's questions at the checkpoint.

Cleveland was permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to the U.S. Marshals Service at a date to be determined in the near future.

Nava also pleaded guilty for his role and will be sentenced at a later date.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey S. Miller, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.

Updated: 02/13/2017