How Greed and Opportunity Turned U.S. Soldiers Into Drug Traffickers

Kim Housego, AP, Sept. 3

BOGOTA, Colombia—U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Rosas was deployed to Colombia as part of the large U.S. mission to fight drug trafficking, but before long he found the lure of cocaine money too hard to resist.

He formed a smuggling ring involving U.S. soldiers that was eventually busted, deeply embarrassing U.S. officials.

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Rosas told military investigators he got involved in drug smuggling in the summer of 2003 when he struck up a friendship with Angel Gutierrez, a bartender at the officer’s club in the Apiay military base southeast of Bogota, where he was stationed. Rosas said Gutierrez told him he could hold cocaine and drive it onto the base through the front gate.

“Greed overtook my state-of-mind. I saw an opportunity and took advantage of it,” Rosas said, according to the sworn statement.

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On his next tour in Colombia, Rosas said he recruited three U.S. soldiers—Rosa, Staff Sgt. Victor Portales and Staff Sgt. Kevin G. Irizarry-Melendez—and they began smuggling much larger quantities of cocaine, according to the sworn statement.

They wrapped sheets of fabric softener and plastic wrap around the cocaine, placed it inside zip-lock bags then put them inside coffee boxes. The drug shipments were loaded onto pallets with other gear then put aboard U.S. Air Force transport planes heading to Texas.

Once, two coffee boxes containing 35 pounds of cocaine vanished after it arrived at Fort Bliss. Rosas said he suspects a private working at the hangar found the cocaine and stole it.

Meanwhile, Rosas found connections in the drug-trafficking underworld in the United States. But that presented new problems.

One drug dealer, identified only as Gustavo, mailed $200,000 to Rosas’ El Paso apartment in four boxes as payment for cocaine, but Rosas was not present to pick up two of the boxes, and they were sent to a forwarding address Gustavo had provided. Gustavo told Rosas he had made up the forwarding address. The two boxes were never found.

“I do not know where the boxes were sent to, nor where the money is at now,” Rosas told the army investigators. “So basically, somebody received $140,000.”

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