Man claiming to be new Fort Hood soldier arrested after accepting smuggling job through TikTok

A U.S. Army horizontal construction engineer with the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 229th Engineer Company, talks with a driver in the secondary screening lanes at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Nogales Port of Entry in Nogales, Ariz., Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018.

Xavier Alvarez

The Monitor, McAllen, Texas

A man claiming to be a newly assigned soldier at Fort Hood is facing federal charges after he allegedly accepted a smuggling job through the social media application TikTok.

Border Patrol agents arrested Richard Pesantez-Astudilla on Sunday after finding two Mexican citizens hidden inside the trunk of his vehicle as he tried to pass through the Falfurrias checkpoint, according to a criminal complaint.

Fort Hood is an Army base located near Killeen and public information officials there did not immediately return a call seeking to confirm whether the man was actually a soldier stationed there.

Pesantez was charged with bringing in and harboring aliens.

According to the affidavit, Pesantez entered the primary inspection lane at the checkpoint near Falfurrias in a gray Volkswagen Passat about 3:35 p.m. Sunday.

Pesantez and his passenger told agents they were heading to Fort Hood because they were newly assigned to the Army post and wanted to explore Texas, so they drove down to the Rio Grande Valley for the day, the affidavit said.

“The primary agent noticed there was no luggage in the vehicle that would indicate they had been on a trip,” the affidavit said.

When asked if there was anything in the truck, Pesantez told agents no and agreed to let them search his truck. Agents found two people hidden inside. Both admitted they were Mexican citizens illegally present in the U.S., according to the affidavit.

In a principal statement provided by the affidavit, Pesantez said he was in his room at the barracks at Fort Hood scrolling through TikTok when he contacted someone advertising a $5,000 payment for transporting people to Houston.

Pesantez said he and his friend drove down to McAllen as instructed by the person online and arrived about 7 p.m. Saturday. They tried different food places before sleeping in Pesantez’s vehicle for about an hour, according to the affidavit.

Pesantez received a message about 7 a.m. the next day from the person telling him to rendezvous at a car wash where they were instructed to clean out the trunk of his vehicle in order to load the two Mexican citizens.

One of those individuals told investigators that he had a hard time breathing while in the trunk and “there was no means of escape from inside,” according to the affidavit.

As for the friend, the complaint didn’t name or provide any other details about the individual.

Pesantez was scheduled to make his initial appearance in Corpus Christi federal court before Magistrate Judge Mitchel Neurock Tuesday morning, court records indicate.

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