12 Marines Confined at Pendleton for Allegedly Smuggling Undocumented Immigrants

Camp Pendleton, Calif., sign. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
Camp Pendleton, Calif., sign. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

A dozen members of a California-based Marine Corps infantry unit have been detained in connection to an investigation into human-smuggling crimes.

The 12 Marines being held in confinement at Camp Pendleton are facing charges for their alleged involvement in smuggling undocumented immigrants, Marine officials said Monday. The Marines are all assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.

Marine and Naval Criminal Investigative Service officials have not released any details on the pending charges, citing the ongoing investigation.

"Each case and alleged level of participation varies among the individual Marines and Sailor," Maj. Kendra Motz said in a statement Monday. "Those details are still under investigation and will not be released at this time."

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Two of the 12 Marines -- Lance Cpls. Byron Darnell Law II and David Javier Salazar-Quintero -- have been held since July 3 after the pair was pulled over near the U.S.-Mexico border. They were allegedly transporting three undocumented immigrants.

The other 10 Marines being held in confinement were arrested on the morning of July 25 during a battalion-wide formation. Six other Marines were arrested during that formation.

A Navy corpsman and two more Marines were arrested later that day, U-T San Diego reported last month. Those three have not been detained, Motz said.

Aside from Law and Salazar, the 10 remaining in detention "were among the original group of 16 detained at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton on July 25,” she said.

The others were released to their command after questioning; all personnel involved are presumed innocent until proven guilty, she added.

The Marines arrested are between the ranks of private first class and corporal. Information gained during the investigation into allegations against Law and Salazar led to the 16 arrests on July 25.

Law was allegedly driving a black vehicle the morning of July 3 when he and Salazar were pulled over by a Border Patrol Agent. Law enforcement personnel had spotted footprints leading to the vehicle's location, according to court documents.

Law, Salazar and the three people in the backseat were arrested. Two of the undocumented immigrants told federal agents they were going to pay the Marines $8,000 to be transported.

Law claimed Salazar was responsible for organizing the deal, the court documents state. Salazar allegedly called Law the night of July 2, asking "if he was willing to make $1,000 picking up an illegal alien."

The two allegedly drove that night to Jacumba, California, where they picked someone up and transported him to a McDonald's in Del Mar. Law claimed they did not receive any money and that Salazar called him again the morning of July 3, "this time guaranteeing they would get paid for today's and last night's event in cash," the documents state.

They were allegedly guided by someone speaking Spanish on Salazar's phone to pull over near the Jacumba Hot Springs exit, where the three people emerged near the shoulder and got into Law's vehicle.

Salazar claimed he'd been introduced to smuggling by Law, who "introduced him to the man that recruited him," according to court documents.

The two face federal charges for allegedly knowingly transporting and moving undocumented immigrants "for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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