Soldier to Stand Trial on Drug Smuggling Charges

9-15-05 - A U.S. Army soldier accused in a scheme to smuggle cocaine into the United States on military flights from Colombia is set to go on trial at Fort Bliss.

Staff Sgt. Kelvin Irizarry-Melendez is accused of illegal importation and wrongful distribution of cocaine, making a false official statement, conspiracy, illegal use of cocaine and illegal use and transportation of weapons. The trial was to begin Thursday morning.

Irizarry-Melendez and three other soldiers from the 204th Military Intelligence Battalion have been accused of smuggling cocaine into the United States about military planes from a U.S. base in Colombia. All four soldiers, who have been jailed since their arrests earlier this year, were stationed in Colombia as part of the U.S. war on drugs.

In a deposition obtained by The Associated Press, accused ringleader Staff Sgt. Daniel Rosas told investigators that the soldiers smuggled more than 100 pounds of cocaine from the Colombian base to the United States with relative ease.

Rosas told investigators that U.S. customs agents subjected the soldiers to only cursory searches that rarely included searches of carryon bags, according to the deposition. And searches were never made of equipment loaded on pallets and shipped into the country, he said.