“You’re going to go to prison:” Judge sentences two soldiers who tried smuggling people into Texas

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.

Kaitlyn Alanis

The Charlotte Observer

Two former soldiers are going to prison after they tried smuggling two people from Mexico into the U.S., authorities said.

“You made a horrible mistake and you’re going to get punished for it,” Judge Diana Saldaña told the men in federal court. “You’re going to go to prison.”

Emmanuel Oppongagyare was ordered to spend 21 months in prison, while Ralph Gregory Saint-Joie was sentenced to 13 months, according to a Sept. 20 news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas. They’re also required to serve three years of supervised release after their prison sentences.

Oppongagyare, 22, and Saint-Joie, 19, both previously pleaded guilty to “conspiring to transport undocumented aliens within the United States,” according to McClatchy News and court records.

Their defense attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News on Sept. 21.

Authorities say both men were stationed at Fort Hood — Saint-Joie was active with the Army, and Oppongagyare was with the Pennsylvania National Guard — when they tried bringing two Mexican nationals through the Border Patrol checkpoint in Hebbronville.

While in their Army-issued uniforms on June 13, 2021, they tried entering into Texas with a man and woman hiding in the trunk of their four-door sedan, McClatchy News previously reported.

Those two people said they had paid Oppongagyare and Saint-Joie to bring them into the U.S., according to a news release.

In his plea, Oppongagyare admitted he met someone through Saint-Joie who recruited them to bring the man and woman to San Antonio. They were told to wear their uniforms “to possibly avoid questioning.” And while officials say they expected to be paid, they were unsure how much.

“On June 13, I made one of the worst mistakes of my life,” Oppongagyare said during the sentencing hearing, according to the news release. Saint-Joie added he was “ashamed” of his role in the smuggling scheme.

The two soldiers were previously released on bond, but they agreed to surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility, officials said. The location has not been determined as of Sept. 20.

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