Wife of US soldier sold newborn online after affair, told husband baby had died

US soldiers participating in a stress shoot test at Camp Casey in Dongducheon, north of Seoul, on April 10, 2018.

ARIZONA (WASHINGTON POST) - The terrible news travelled 10,000 miles (16,093km) to reach Sergeant Steven Garcia.

The 24-year-old US Army sergeant was on overseas deployment in Seoul, a patrol supervisor with the 142nd Military Police Company.

As the days crept on in January, another role was coming in fast: that of a dad.

Sergeant Garcia waited for his wife Marina to deliver to their child back in Arizona. But when the report came from home, it was bad. Sergeant Garcia's sister called to say the baby, a girl, had died in childbirth.

"When my sister called me about that, it was pretty emotional," Sergeant Garcia recently told Tuscon's News 4. "We cried quite a bit together over the phone. It was devastating."

The shock and grief were quickly sidelined by more complex feelings the next month, when the soldier learnt the truth. Not only was the baby alive - and a boy - but the focal point of a bizarre criminal investigation.

The child also was not his.

"I was under the assumption the entire time that she was pregnant that I was the father," he told the station. "When I found out I wasn't, I was pretty upset, I was kind of in denial. I couldn't believe what was going on."

According to the authorities, Marina Garcia lied about the baby's death to her husband's family to cover up her infidelity. To hide the evidence, she allegedly concocted a plan to hand the newborn over to a couple in Texas, allegedly forging the necessary paperwork to keep the adoption below the legal radar.

"The only thing on her mind was getting rid of this child. This 'problem' in her life," Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre said recently.

The deception began unravelling on Feb 5 on Interstate 10 in Arizona, the Arizona Range News reported.

At around 10.15am local time, an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer clocked a tan sport utility vehicle shooting eastbound 90 miles (145km) per hour.

After pulling the car over, the officer found three people inside - Alex Hernandez, 33, his wife Leslie, 41, and a newborn baby boy.

According to the Herald/Review, the officer became suspicious. Upon questioning, the couple admitted the three-day-old baby was not their biological child.

The Hernandez couple told police they had been given the baby by Marina Garcia, and that they had "conspired with the birth mother (Garcia) to forge the signature as the father to take possession of the infant child", according to court documents quoted by the Range News.

When investigators searched through the couple's mobile phones, they saw that Leslie Hernandez had set up the handoff with Marina Garcia through texts and Facebook messenger.

The same day, police travelled to Sierra Vista, Arizona, to interview Marina Garcia. Living with a boyfriend, an Army specialist, she admitted to conspiring with the Texas couple.

According to Stars and Stripes, Marina Garcia told investigators she planned to travel to Texas to sign away her parental rights once she had recovered from the birth.

She also said she had given birth to the child at 37 weeks, but actually did not know who the father was. It was not, she contended, her husband.

Back in South Korea, Sergeant Garcia was contacted by investigators, who told him his child was actually still alive, and a boy.

The sergeant took an emergency leave to visit the child, who was taken into state custody.

The baby - named Leo, according to the Stars and Stripes - is now with foster parents. Paternity tests determined that Sergeant Garcia was not the father. He has since filed for divorce from his wife.

Although money does not seem to have been exchanged for the child, Marina Garcia and the Hernandez's all faced criminal charges for their role in the scheme.

In April, Alex Hernandez pleaded guilty to committing forgery, and his wife Leslie pleaded to conspiracy to commit forgery, the Herald/Review reported. Each was given four years of supervised probation for the charges.

Marina Garcia pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempted scheme to defraud, according to News 4.

She refused to comment on the details of the case when a News 4 reporter knocked on her door recently. When asked about the baby's paternity, Marina would only say: "It's unknown."

Her sentencing is scheduled for next month.

But that is not stopping Sergeant Garcia from trying to stay in the child's life. He has already visited Leo eight times and plans to petition for custody. He told News 4 his own experience as an adopted child directed his moral compass.

"My adopted father completely changed my life," he said. "Without him I would not be where I am today. And for the opportunity to do that for someone else, I believe it's important. It could change the child's life and give him a better future and I believe that's the right thing to do."

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