16 Marines Nabbed During Morning Formation on Drug-, People-Smuggling Charges

A Border Patrol truck drives on a dirt road along the Mexican border in Arizona. Getty Images
A Border Patrol truck drives on a dirt road along the Mexican border in Arizona. Getty Images

Sixteen junior enlisted infantry Marines were arrested Thursday during morning formation for alleged human- and drug-smuggling crimes as part of a widespread and ongoing investigation.

Leaders with 1st Marine Division have been working with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to carry out the arrests during a battalion-wide formation at Camp Pendleton, California, officials said in a news release.

"The 16 Marines were arrested for alleged involvement in various illegal activities ranging from human smuggling to drug-related offenses," the release states. "... An additional [eight] Marines were taken aside to be questioned on their involvement in alleged drug offenses unrelated to today's arrests."

Some of the Marines have been charged, Maj. Kendra Motz, a spokeswoman for 1st Marine Division, told Military.com, but that information has not yet been released.

Editor's Note: Two more Marines and a sailor were later arrested.

The Marines' ranks range from E-2 to E-4, she said. All of them are currently assigned to the infantry, though the probe remains ongoing to determine whether personnel from other communities were involved, she added.

Officials declined to say how long the Marines arrested Wednesday are believed to have been moving people and drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border. Information gained from another human-smuggling investigation led to the Marines' arrest, Motz said.

Two Marine riflemen with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines -- Lance Cpls. Byron Darnell Law II and David Javier Salazar-Quintero -- were arrested July 3 after they were pulled over about seven miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border near Jacumba Hot Springs, California, Marine Corps Times reported earlier this month.

The pair were allegedly transporting three undocumented immigrants, who told Border Patrol agents they were going to pay $8,000 to be smuggled into the U.S., according to the paper. The Marines are now facing federal charges.

Officials with 1st Marine Division are "committed to justice and the rule of law," they said in the release, and "will continue to fully cooperate with NCIS on this matter."

"Any Marines found to be in connection with these alleged activities will be questioned and handled accordingly with respect to due process," according to the release.

Motz said the command is holding guided discussions with their Marines to explain the situation and remind them about the core values all troops must uphold.

"A priority for the new commandant, Gen. [David] Berger, is professionalism and accountability," she said. "If you do things wrong and it's confirmed that you've done something wrong, then you'll be held accountable.

"This is one example of Marines being held accountable," she added.

None of the Marines arrested or detained for questioning served in support of the Southwest Border Support mission. There are currently more than 5,000 U.S. troops supporting Customs and Border Security personnel there.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct that the Marines were arrested Thursday.

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

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