A soldier stationed in Colombia as part of the U.S. war on drugs was sentenced to six years in prison Thursday after pleading guilty in a scheme to smuggle cocaine into the United States using military planes.
Army Staff Sgt. Kelvin Irizarry-Melendez, 26, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, wrongful importation of cocaine and a charge related to taking money to Colombia.
Lt. Col. Jeffery Nance sentenced Irizarry-Melendez to six years, reduced his rank to private and ordered a dishonorable discharge. Under a plea deal, Irizarry-Melendez could have been sentenced to no more than 9½ years.
Irizarry-Melendez apologized to his family, the court and the Army in a brief statement. He said he joined in the drug ring in part to help support his family and pay for costly medical treatments to help correct his daughter’s debilitating foot problem.
“I felt I had to do something to help with my daughter’s condition,” a tearful Irizarry-Melendez said.
He and three other soldiers were accused of smuggling cocaine from a U.S. base in Colombia. All four have been jailed since their arrests earlier this year.
Irizarry-Melendez also had been charged with making a false official statement, illegal use of cocaine and illegal use and transportation of weapons, according to post officials. Those charges were not pursued as part of the plea agreement.
The accused ringleader, Staff Sgt. Daniel Rosas, who is scheduled to stand trial later this month, told investigators that he and Irizarry-Melendez were responsible for the drug smuggling, with the other two soldiers concentrating mostly on fronting money to buy the drugs.
Irizarry-Melendez told the judge Thursday that he assisted the operation, and even helped another soldier steal cocaine from Rosas, but didn’t smuggle drugs or money.
Spec. Francisco Rosa pleaded guilty last month to a series of charges and was sentenced to five years in prison, a reduction in rank to private and a bad-conduct discharge.
Staff Sgt. Victor J. Portales is scheduled for trial in November.