SAN DIEGO -- Three more service members -- two Marines and one Navy sailor -- were taken into custody in connection with a criminal probe into human smuggling and drug offenses that led to the arrests of 16 Marines at Camp Pendleton, investigators said Friday.
Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents took 16 Marines into custody Thursday morning during a battalion-wide roll-call formation at the northern San Diego County military installation, according to Marine Corps officials. The arrestees range in rank from E-2 to E-4 and were all from the same unit -- 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. Their identities and details on the allegations against them were not immediately available.
NCIS officials confirmed Friday that two more Marines had been arrested, along with one sailor, pushing the total number of arrests to 19. "NCIS apprehended 18 Marines and one Sailor yesterday (Thursday) in relation to an ongoing investigation into allegations of human smuggling and drug-related offenses," NCIS spokesman Jeff Houston said in a statement. "The 1st Marine Division is cooperating with NCIS on this matter. NCIS is dedicated to investigating allegations of criminal activity that poses threats to Department of the Navy readiness and the safety of U.S. citizens.
"Out of respect for the investigative and judicial process, and to protect witnesses, NCIS will not comment further until the investigative and judicial process has completed," he said.
No other details were provided about the additional arrests.
As of Friday afternoon, the suspects had yet to be charged with any crimes, said USMC Maj. Kendra Motz, a 1st Marine Division spokeswoman. "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. "The commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment will act within his authority to hold the Marines accountable at the appropriate level, should they be charged."
According to a Marine Corps statement, the arrests stemmed from "information gained from a previous human-smuggling investigation." Eight other Marines were interrogated Thursday for their alleged involvement in unrelated drug crimes, officials said. It was not immediately clear if the two additional Marine arrests announced Friday came from that group. "None of the Marines arrested or detained for questioning served in support of the Southwest Border Support mission," according to the Marine Corps statement.
The prior case that led investigators to the new arrests involved Camp Pendleton Marines Byron Darnell Law II and David Javier Salazar-Quintero, who were taken into custody three weeks ago. On July 3, Border Patrol agents investigating suspected human-smuggling activity in the southeastern reaches of San Diego County pulled over a small black car near Boulevard, according to a federal complaint. Inside the vehicle were Law, Salazar-Quintero and three Mexican nationals in the United States illegally, the court document states. The two servicemen were taken into custody on suspicion of transporting undocumented immigrants for financial gain.
Law and Salazar-Quintero are being prosecuted in federal court. The newly arrested Marines' cases are in the military justice system for now, though they could wind up in the civilian legal arena, as well, said 1st Lt. Cameron Edinburgh, another public-information officer with the 1st Marine Division.