16 US Marines arrested in drugs, human smuggling probe

Washington: Sixteen US Marines were arrested on Thursday for alleged involvement in various illegal activities ranging from human smuggling to drug-related offences, the US Marine Corps said.

The arrests took place during a battalion formation on Thursday morning at the Camp Pendleton in California, a base camp located about an hour’s drive from the US-Mexico border, CNN reported.

“Information gained from a previous human smuggling investigation precipitated the arrests,” the statement said.

A US official told CNN that Thursday’s arrests are related to an incident that occurred earlier this month in which two Marines from Camp Pendleton were charged with transporting undocumented immigrants for financial gain.

Byron Law II and David Salazar-Quintero, both lance corporals, were arrested after their vehicle was pulled over by Border Patrol agents about 20 miles east of the Tecate port of entry.

Law was driving, and Salazar-Quintero was in the passenger seat. There were three passengers in the back of the car, and they told the agent that they were Mexican citizens, had no immigration papers and were not permitted to enter the United States, according to the official.

The three immigrants apprehended from the back of Law’s car told Border Patrol agents that they had made arrangements to be smuggled into the United States and had been told via cellphone to get into Law’s car.

Two of the migrants said they were planning to pay $8,000 to be smuggled into the country, the complaint says. One planned on travelling to Los Angeles, the other to New Jersey.

The driver and passenger, under questioning, began pointing fingers at one another, the complaint says, detailing their involvement in a smuggling operation.

Meanwhile, eight other Marines were also questioned regarding their involvement in the alleged drug offences as part of a separate investigation, the Marine Corps said.

Marines this year were brought in to help support the Department of Homeland Security in reinforcing the border by installing razor wire on top of existing barriers. Military troops are barred from making arrests of immigrants.