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Soldier Pleads Guilty to Drug Smuggling

Associated Press | September 16, 2005

FORT BLISS, Texas - A U.S. soldier who was stationed in Colombia to help fight drug trafficking was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty for his role in smuggling cocaine into the United States using military planes.

Army Staff Sgt. Kelvin Irizarry-Melendez pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy, wrongful importation of cocaine and a charge related to taking money to Colombia. A military judge sentenced him to six years, reduced his rank to private and ordered a dishonorable discharge.

Irizarry-Melendez, 26, and three other soldiers from the 204th Military Intelligence Battalion were accused of smuggling cocaine from a U.S. base in Colombia. All four were arrests earlier this year.

Irizarry-Melendez originally was also charged with making a false official statement, illegal use of cocaine and illegal use and transportation of weapons, according to military officials. Those charges were not pursued as part of the plea agreement.

Irizarry-Melendez apologized to his family, the court and the Army in a brief statement. He said he joined in the drug ring in part to help support his family and pay for costly medical treatments to help correct his daughter's debilitating foot problem.

"I felt I had to do something to help with my daughter's condition," a tearful Irizarry-Melendez said.

Before his sentencing, relatives including Irizarry-Melendez's wife described the soldier as a dedicated father of two who made a horrible mistake.

"I forgive my husband because before all this he's always been a good person, honest," said Kayla Rosas, Irizarry-Melendez's wife.

She asked Nance to show mercy to her husband, who missed the birth of his second child in August because he was in jail awaiting trial.

"I want, just like anyone in this room, to have a stable family," Rosas said, wiping tears from her eyes.

In a deposition obtained by The Associated Press, accused ringleader Staff Sgt. Daniel Rosas told investigators that the soldiers smuggled more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of cocaine with relative ease.

Rosas told investigators that U.S. customs agents subjected the soldiers to only cursory searches and never searched equipment shipped into the country.

Rosas, who is scheduled to stand trial later this month, told investigators that he and Irizarry-Melendez were responsible for the drug smuggling, with the other two soldiers concentrating mostly on fronting money to buy the drugs.

Irizarry-Melendez told the judge Thursday that he assisted the operation but didn't smuggle drugs or money.

He is the second soldier to face a judge in the case. Spec. Francisco Rosa pleaded guilty last month to a series of charges and was sentenced to five years in prison, a reduction in rank to private and a bad-conduct discharge. Another U.S. soldier is scheduled for trial in November.

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