2 service members sentenced to prison for smuggling people into the US from Mexico
They were in uniform…
Add this one to the safety brief. Two service members, one of them an active duty soldier, the other a National Guardsman, were sentenced last week for trying to smuggle undocumented migrants across Texas while in uniform.
Last week, Emmanuel Oppongagyare, a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and Ralph Gregory Saint-Joie, an active duty soldier at Fort Hood, Texas, were sentenced to 21 and 13 months in confinement, respectively, along with three years of supervised release, following a guilty plea from both parties last August, according to a Justice Department release. Their ranks were not disclosed in the release.
On June 13, 2021, Oppongagyare and Saint-Joie were stopped at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoint in Hebbronville, Texas roughly 50 miles from the U.S. Mexico border. The two men, who were both in uniform at the time, were halted for questioning, telling authorities they were traveling from Mexico to San Antonio. Following a search of the vehicle, two undocumented Mexican citizens were discovered in the trunk of the car, according to an earlier Justice Department release about the incident.
Following the arrest, Oppangagyare told prosecutors he had been recruited along with Saint-Joie to drive the migrants from McAllen, Texas, along the U.S.-Mexico border, to San Antonio, Texas, for an undisclosed amount of money.
The man who Oppangagyare said recruited him, according to prosecutors, was Isaiah Gore, another active duty soldier stationed at Fort Hood. Gore, along with two other co-conspirators, both active duty soldiers, pleaded guilty between December, 2021 and January, 2022 and the trio were sentenced in March, 2022 to prison terms. According to Oppangagyare, he along with Saint-Joie and other soldiers were recruited to pick up migrants in McAllen and drive them to San Antonio.
A Justice Department investigation also determined that the two soldiers had been told to wear their uniforms specifically to avoid questioning at the kinds of checkpoints they were detained at.
This isn’t the first time soldiers have found themselves caught up in schemes to smuggle migrants across the vast U.S.-Mexico border.
On July 3, 2019, two Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, were arrested after trying to shuttle three undocumented migrants across the border. Those arrests later led to 16 Marines being arrested for involvement in various illegal activities “ranging from human smuggling to drug-related offenses,” according to a Marine Corps press release. A Marine Corps spokeswoman at the time told Task & Purpose that all of those Marines were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, and were all between the ranks of Private First Class and Corporal.
In 2016, two Fort Bliss, Texas, soldiers, were charged with attempting to smuggle undocumented immigrants across the U.S.-Texas border in exchange for $1,500.
So, while missions like the Texas National Guard’s Operation Lone Star have seemingly done little to secure the border, and led to the occasional lost rifle, service members getting caught up in criminal activities along the border continues.
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