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Sullivan City man pleads guilty to bribing Border Patrol agent

A smuggler who bribed two U.S. Border Patrol agents pleaded guilty Tuesday during a hearing at the federal courthouse in McAllen.

Edwin Alejandro Castillo, 22, of Sullivan City pleaded guilty to bribery and smuggling charges Tuesday morning.

Castillo and Jose Luis Duran, 25, of Mission bribed Border Patrol Agent Oberlin Cortez Peña Jr. to allow smugglers through the Falfurrias checkpoint, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jongwoo “Daniel” Chung, who summarized the case Tuesday. They also bribed another Border Patrol agent with the initials “M.O.” during what appears to be a sting operation.

In March, when Peña was charged with driving while intoxicated and placed on administrative duty, Castillo and Duran needed to find another Border Patrol contact.

They arranged a meeting with “M.O.” on June 10.

Edwin Alejandro Castillo, 22, of Sullivan City pleaded guilty to bribing a Border Patrol agent. (Photo courtesy of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office.)

Castillo and Duran offered to pay $1,500 to $2,000 every time “M.O.” allowed a smuggler to pass through the checkpoint.

“M.O.” agreed. Castillo provided Duran with the money.

“Duran met with M.O. at a Taco Bell parking lot in Pharr, Texas, and, at the defendant’s direction, paid M.O. $2,000 in United States currency,” Chung said.

After they made the payment, Castillo and Duran met at a stash house. They packed eight migrants into two cars.

The drivers, Kristian Nicole West and Herbey Jose Solis III, headed for the Falfurrias checkpoint. Border Patrol knew they were coming.

“On June 14, 2021, United States Border Patrol Agents working in the vicinity of Falfurrias, Texas received information from a federal law enforcement entity that a white Ford Explorer bearing Texas license plates JYN 6451, along with a red GMC Sierra bearing Texas license plates LPZ 7907, were going to be attempting to smuggle aliens through the Falfurrias, Texas Border Patrol checkpoint,” according to the criminal complaint against West and Solis.

The criminal complaint doesn’t provide any details about how the “federal law enforcement entity” obtained the information.

Documents filed in the case against Peña, however, suggest “M.O.” may be part of a sting operation conducted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General.

After they passed through the checkpoint, Border Patrol arrested West and Solis on smuggling charges.

“On or about June 14, 2021, DHS-OIG SAs, based on debriefing intelligence, started investigation into a U.S. Border Patrol Agent that possibly accepted money for facilitating alien smuggling through a checkpoint,” according to the criminal complaint against Peña. “During the investigation, DHS-OIG SAs identified and developed a cooperator involved in alien smuggling.”

The Office of Inspector General sent the cooperator to meet with Peña at La Plaza Mall. They discussed how to move cocaine through the checkpoint.

“PENA was willing to transport the 5 kilograms of cocaine if there were rookie agents working at the time. PENA recommended to the cooperator the best places to hide narcotics in a motor vehicle and some tactics to distract the USBP canine work dog (K9),” according to the criminal complaint. “PENA told the cooperator to relay what type of compartment the cocaine would be in and the license plates to the load vehicle so that he may check the plates for any alerts.”

The Office of Inspector General arrested Peña on July 9. He pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking charges.

West, Solis, Castillo and Duran, however, quickly confessed.

Castillo and Duran, who pleaded guilty to bribery, face a maximum of 15 years in federal prison. They’re scheduled for sentencing on Nov. 9.

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