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SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - Three Texas National Guardsmen serving on the U.S.-Mexico border to help prevent drug smuggling and illegal immigration were charged on Monday with taking cash to transport 24 undocumented aliens, federal prosecutors said.
U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle said Jose Rodrigo Torres, 26, from Laredo, Texas, was arrested on June 7 while in uniform driving along Interstate 35 south of San Antonio with the immigrants in his van.
Two other guardsmen -- Julio Cesar Pacheco, 25, also of Laredo, and Clarence Hodge Jr., 36, of Fort Worth, Texas -- were paid to approach Torres' van at a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint to make it look like they were conducting National Guard business, prosecutors said.
Lt. Gen. Chuck Rodriguez, who commands the state's National Guard units as Texas adjutant general, said the three men were on active duty with Operation Jump Start in which the Guard performs unarmed support roles to back up the U.S. Border Patrol in south Texas.
Rodriguez said the National Guard was "fully cooperating" in the investigation.
DeGabrielle said Pacheco was suspected of being the ringleader of the operation, which involved several smuggling trips. The other two guardsmen were paid from $1,000 to $3,500 per trip, he said.
"The alleged actions of these men is disturbing and will be addressed," DeGabrielle said. He added that thousands of Texas National Guard troops daily do their duty without breaking the law.
Each man faces a maximum of 10 years in prison without parole and a fine of $250,000.