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16 Camp Pendleton Marines arrested on human smuggling and drug-related allegations

Marine Exercise Steel Knight
A convoy of 1st Marine Division Humvees at Camp Pendleton.
(Bill Wechter)

The arrests took place during battalion formation in a “public display for the entire unit to see,” the Marine Corps said

Sixteen Marines were arrested at Camp Pendleton Thursday morning during battalion formation for various illegal activities ranging from human smuggling to drug-related offenses, the 1st Marine Division said in a statement.

The Marine Corps said information from a previous human smuggling investigation led to the arrests. On July 3, two Marines — Byron Darnell Law II and David Javier Salazar-Quintero — were arrested for allegedly transporting unauthorized immigrants as part of a smuggling operation.

Eight additional Marines were questioned about other alleged drug offenses unrelated to the arrests, the Marine Corps said.

The Marine Corps confirmed the Marines involved in Thursday’s action are from the same unit as Law and Salazar-Quintero — 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

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Division officials and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service carried out the arrests. The 16 arrested range in rank from private first class to corporal, or E-2 to E-4, according to 1st Lt. Cameron Edinburgh, a division spokesman.

Names of the arrested Marines and details of the alleged offenses were not immediately released.

Edinburgh told the Union-Tribune the arrests were made during formation at the unit’s parade deck in the San Matteo area of the base.

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“It was a public display for the entire unit to see,” he said.

Edinburgh said for the moment the 16 were in NCIS custody and set to be prosecuted by the Marines, whereas Law and Salazar-Quintero are being prosecuted in federal court.

“1st Marine Division is committed to justice and the rule of law, and we will continue to fully cooperate with NCIS on this matter,” the statement says. “Any Marines found to be in connection with these alleged activities will be questioned and handled accordingly with respect to due process.”

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Major Kendra Motz speaks to the media about the 16 Marines arrested on human smuggling and drug-related allegations outside the main gate to Camp Pendleton on July 25, 2019. Photo by Charlie Neuman

The Marines are being held in the Camp Pendleton brig.

Law and Salazar-Quintero, both lance corporals, were arrested after Border Patrol agents saw their vehicle pull off Interstate 8 around 10:00 a.m. near Jacumba Hot Springs and pick up three unauthorized immigrants, according to U.S. District Court documents. They were arraigned in federal court in San Diego July 8.

According to the court complaint, both Marines said they worked with an unidentified recruiter who told them where to go. The two were pulled over by Border Patrol some time later with three passengers in the back seat.

Both allegedly spoke to federal agents after waiving their rights to an attorney. Both men blamed each other for getting him involved in the scheme, according to court documents.

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Attorneys for Law and Salazar-Quintero declined to comment on the case Thursday.

Staff reporter Alex Riggins contributed to this story.

Updates:
11:13 AM, Jul. 25, 2019: This story was updated with more information.
2:50 PM, Jul. 25, 2019: This story was updated with more information

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