Man Charged After Marines Allege He Recruited Them for Smuggling Operations

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A screen grab from a YouTube video shows Marines being arrested during formation at Camp Pendleton in July, 2019. (Screen capture)
A screen grab from a YouTube video shows Marines being arrested during formation at Camp Pendleton in July, 2019. (Screen capture)

A man was arrested in San Diego County last month after Marines told federal investigators he recruited and paid them to transport people who’d crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

Francisco Saul Rojas-Hernandez was charged with conspiracy to transport aliens within the United States for financial gain, according to court records. His Jan. 22 arrest was first reported by NBC 7 in San Diego.

Multiple people, including at least two Marines based at Camp Pendleton, California, told border patrol agents that Rojas-Hernandez allegedly recruited them to drive unauthorized immigrants around the county. His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lance Cpls. Byron Darnell Law II and David Javier Salazar-Quintero, who were picked up by agents in July after they were pulled over near the U.S.-Mexico border, said Rojas-Hernandez “recruited them and organized the smuggling operation,” according to court documents. The pair was allegedly transporting three people who’d crossed into the U.S.

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

Salazar-Quintero identified Rojas-Hernandez in a photo lineup, according to court documents.

Another person arrested in September, who was allegedly found with two unauthorized immigrants in his trunk, said Rojas-Hernandez was going to pay him $1,000 for smuggling the people, the court documents state. It’s not immediately clear whether that person was also a Marine.

He also identified Rojas-Hernandez in a photo lineup, according to the court documents.

Rojas-Hernandez’s case is connected to human trafficking, drug and weapons charges against about two dozen members of 1st Marine Division. Sixteen of those Marines were publicly apprehended during a July battalion formation.

The apprehensions happened just weeks after Law and Salazar-Quintero were arrested. Both were assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.

By December, six Marines pleaded guilty to various charges during courts-martial. But the charges against most of the troops were dropped after a military judge found in November that the 16 arrests that happened in front of the Marines’ 800-person battalion violated their rights.

The service announced in a December statement that most of the infantry Marines involved would face administrative punishment, which is handled at the unit level rather than through courts-martial. Administrative punishments range in severity, but many of the Marines were expected to be discharged from the military, according to the statement.

"Thirteen Marines submitted and have approved pre-trial agreements requesting separation in lieu of courts-martial or waiving administrative separation boards," the 1st Marine Division statement read.

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

Read more: Criminal Cases Collapse in Alleged Marine Corps Human Smuggling and Drug Rings

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