Arrests of Two Marines, Sailor Bring Total to 19 Apprehended in Connection to Human Smuggling Ring

Three more members of the U.S. armed forces have been arrested in connection with an ongoing investigation into a human smuggling and drug ring tied to the U.S. Marine Corps.

Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS) confirmed the arrests of two Marines and one sailor — all based out of Camp Pendelton in southern California — in an emailed statement to Newsweek. The three arrests bring the total of those apprehended in connection to the case to 19 people.

"NCIS apprehended 18 Marines and one Sailor yesterday in relation to an ongoing investigation into allegations of human smuggling and drug-related offenses. The 1st Marine Division is cooperating with NCIS on this matter," Jeff Houston of NCIS Public Affairs said in a statement to Newsweek.

The Marines are attached to the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, the same regiment where 16 members were taken into custody on Thursday during battalion formation. Of the 18 Marines arrested, they vary in rank from private first class to corporal, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The sailor arrested on Friday is a corpsman, according to the newspaper.

San Diego's ABC 10 News was first to report on these arrests.

U.S. Marine Corps
This photo reviewed by the US military shows the United States Marine Corps emblem hanging on a wall at the Joint Detention Forces Headquarters at Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, Cuba, April 09, 2014. MLADEN ANTONOV/Getty

The arrests of the 19 individuals follows the July 3 arrests of lance corporals Byron Law and David Javier Salazar-Quintero, both members of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. Law and Salazar-Quintero were charged with attempting to smuggle immigrants further into the United States for $1,000 a person.

The two Marines were apprehended by Border Patrol agents after three immigrants caught with the men told agents that Law had picked them up that day. The migrants said they were planning to pay $8,000 to be transported.

Both Marines reportedly blamed the other for being drawn into the operation, and both pointed to an unidentified organizer who told them where to go and who to pick up.

On Friday, Maj. Kendra Motz, Communication Strategy & Operations Director for the 1st Marine Division said in an emailed statement that the Marines arrested earlier this week have not been charged with a crime. According to the Union-Tribune, all those arrested in connection to the investigation were being held in the Camp Pendelton brig.
"Out of respect for the privacy of the implicated Marines, we will not release names or other identifying information until charges are announced," Motz said in her statement.
Motz added that if the Marines are charged, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment will hold them accountable for their actions.
As is the case with Law and Salazar-Quintero, anyone charged in the case will be prosecuted through the military court system. Law and Salazar-Quintero were arraigned on July 8 in San Diego.
Meanwhile, Houston said that NCIS will continue to investigate "allegations of criminal activity that poses threats to Department of the Navy readiness and the safety of U.S. citizens."