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Former Border Patrol agent pleads guilty to drug trafficking charge

A former Border Patrol agent pleaded guilty to a federal drug trafficking charge on Friday.

During a hearing Friday morning, Oberlin Cortez Peña Jr., 22, of La Joya pleaded guilty to attempting to aid and abet the possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

Agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility arrested Peña in July after conducting a sting operation.

“He should have known better,” said attorney Rick Salinas of Mission, who represents Peña. “There’s no excuse.”

Oberlin Cortez Peña Jr.

Former Border Patrol Agent Oberlin Cortez Peña Jr., 22, of La Joya. (Photo courtesy of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office.)

Salinas said Peña made bad decisions in part because of age and immaturity.

“He just took on too much too soon,” Salinas said. “He had no business being a Border Patrol agent at 18.”

Peña came from a family of Border Patrol agents.

His father worked for Border Patrol. And in July, when Peña was arrested, his brother was in the process of becoming a Border Patrol agent.

“Believe it or not, his dad, when he applied for Border Patrol, he objected to it,” Salinas said. “Because he said he was too young. And then they took him in, and he fell prey to immaturity.”

Border Patrol assigned Peña to the Falfurrias checkpoint in Brooks County.

At some point, Peña started accepting cash from Edwin Alejandro Castillo, 23, of Sullivan City to waive cars through the checkpoint. Court records don’t reveal when Peña started accepting bribes.

In March, though, the Alamo Police Department arrested Peña on a drunken driving charge.

Border Patrol placed Peña on administrative duty. Castillo and his associate, Jose Luis Duran, 25, of Mission, needed to find another corrupt Border Patrol agent.

They approached someone with the initials “M.O.,” according to the indictment. Court records don’t identify “M.O.” by name.

Duran met “M.O.” in a Taco Bell parking lot and handed over $2,000.

On June 14 — three days after Castillo and Duran paid “M.O.” — they sent two cars through the Falfurrias checkpoint. Brooks County sheriff’s deputies stopped both cars and arrested the drivers.

That same day, the Office of Inspector General started investigating allegations that a Border Patrol agent “had possibly accepted money for facilitating alien smuggling through a checkpoint.”

The Office of Inspector General set up a sting operation.

Agents had an informant approach Peña about smuggling cocaine through the checkpoint. Peña met the informant at La Plaza Mall on June 22.

“The cooperator discussed that he had 5 kilograms of cocaine to smuggle through the USBP FLF checkpoint,” according to the criminal complaint against Peña, which uses the acronyms “USBP” for Border Patrol and “FLF” for Falfurrias. “PENA agreed to be paid $1,000 USD for conducting countersurveillance. PENA also agreed to check the USBP schedule to see which BPAs would be working on Friday, June 25, 2021, at 6:30 a.m. PENA was willing to transport the 5 kilograms of cocaine if there were rookie agents working at the time.”

Peña also provided the informant with tips about how to hide cocaine and trick drug-sniffing dogs.

After the cocaine passed through the checkpoint, the informant met Peña at the Whataburger in La Joya and paid him $1,000.

They coordinated another cocaine shipment on July 9.

“PENA advised that he would let the cooperator know which lane to have the cocaine load vehicle drive through around 6:20 a.m., after PENA crossed through the USBP FLF checkpoint,” according to the criminal complaint. “PENA instructed the cooperator to have the cocaine load vehicle drive through lane 3.”

After the cocaine passed through the checkpoint, the informant met with Peña and paid him $1,000.

“PENA then drove to the USBP Station in Falfurrias, Texas, to work as a BPA,” according to the criminal complaint.

Agents arrested Peña when he arrived.

Peña is scheduled for sentencing on March 1. He faces 10 years to life in federal prison.

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