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AWOL soldier in Texas sentenced to 3 years

He is also dishonorably discharged after trying to fake his kidnapping by a Mexican drug cartel.

October 04, 2009|Associated Press

FT. HOOD, TEXAS — A Ft. Hood soldier who tried to fake his kidnapping by a Mexican drug cartel after he went AWOL has been sentenced to three years in prison and dishonorably discharged.

As part of a deal in which Pfc. James Andrew Gonzalez pleaded guilty to desertion, violating a general order and obstruction of justice charges, a military judge instead of a jury decided his sentence.

The plea agreement also guaranteed Gonzalez the lesser sentence -- the other was the judge's recommendation of five years in prison. The judge, Col. Gregory Gross, also sentenced Gonzalez to a dishonorable discharge, the most severe discharge; reduced his rank to private, the lowest in the military; and ordered Gonzalez's pay and benefits stopped.

Gonzalez could have been sentenced to more than 22 years.

During a court-martial that lasted more than four hours, Gonzalez told the judge that he went into Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, in July after a three-day pass to attend a court hearing in Corpus Christi, Texas. Gonzalez said he had no intention of returning to the Army, so he sent a text message to a soldier demanding $100,000 and the removal of border security, claiming to be a Mexican drug cartel member who had kidnapped Gonzalez.

"I made my family worried for me," Gonzalez told Gross. "It was that kind of behavior that made the public think poorly of the armed forces."

He was captured unharmed 10 days later after a search involving several state and federal agencies.

Andrew Del Valle, an FBI special agent in Laredo, Texas, said Gonzalez's hoax had long-term effects because some in the community had become too fearful to cooperate, believing the Mexican drug cartel had started to kidnap law enforcement agents and military personnel.

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