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Soldier's Trial Begins In Colombian Drug Smuggling Case

Associated Press, Jan. 23, 2006

by Alicia A. Caldwell

EL PASO, Texas - An Army soldier was set to go on trial Tuesday on charges that he joined with a dangerous paramilitary group to run a cocaine smuggling ring from a U.S. base in Colombia while on a mission to battle drug trafficking.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Rosas, with the 204th MI Battalion, is charged with a series of drug offenses and accused of using U.S. aircraft to smuggle cocaine to his home base at Fort Bliss, just outside El Paso.

Rosas, former Spc. Francisco Rosa, former Staff Sgt. Kelvin G. Irizarry-Melendez and former Sgt. Victor J. Portales were arrested in March. Rosa, Irizarry-Melendez and Portales have pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to several years in prison. All four soldiers were deployed to fight the drug trade.

Rosas has confessed in a lengthy sworn statement to running the drug ring. But his lawyers have argued that the statement should be thrown out because he probably was drunk and tired when he spoke with investigators.

Rosas told investigators that the smuggling scheme started in 2003 with the help of a Colombia bartender, Angel Gutierrez, a member of the paramilitary United Self Defense forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish initials AUC.

Gutierrez worked at a bar at the U.S. base. Rosas said he later recruited Rosa, Irizarry-Melendez and Portales to help him ship the drugs.

Rosas also told investigators that at various times he lost both drugs and money. During hearings last year for Rosa, Irizarry-Melendez and Portales, the soldiers said they had schemed to steal money and drugs from Rosas.

Investigators also have alleged Rosas gave Gutierrez weapons in exchange for cocaine.

Rosas has been jailed since his arrest.

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