The Associated Press
Thursday, September 15, 2005; 8:42 PM
FORT BLISS, Texas -- 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 9 1/2 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.