On Saturday, military officials from Camp Pendleton officially confirmed two dozen Marines were given a less-than-honorable discharge for taking part in a human trafficking ring. The 24 Marines were arrested on July 3, when U.S. Border Patrol agents spotted three illegal aliens get into a vehicle on Interstate 8, just north of the border in San Diego. (Video link to arrest by CBS 8: https://youtu.be/fjYf5iCAktc)
The California Globe contacted Camp Pendleton to confirm the administrative and criminal punishments that were handed down. Military spokesperson, Major Kendra Motz made a public statement over the weekend that nine Marines were sent to courts-martial, eight pled guilty, and 15 were charged with lower-level offenses.
“One of the Marines has been confined to the brig for 18 months,” said Motz in a statement Saturday.
A federal complaint alleged the illegal aliens told the Border Patrol agents they paid the Marines $8,000 to smuggle them north from the border to Los Angeles, before heading to New Jersey. The Marines also faced drug-related charges.
During an investigation of human smuggling, Border Patrol agents initially arrested only two infantrymen with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines; Lance Cpl. Byron D. Law and Lance Cpl. David J. Salazar-Quintero. Further investigations, however, by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) eventually led to the arrests of 22 more Marines.
In January, agents with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) arrested a suspect who allegedly orchestrated the human smuggling operation by recruiting Marines to transport people illegally across the Mexican border into the United States.
Federal agents arrested Francisco Saul Rojas-Hernandez in Solana Beach. Rojas-Hernandez is charged with felony Conspiracy to Transport Aliens for Financial Gain.
An immigration activist told Miltary.com the ringleaders of human smuggling operations recruit U.S. Marines because their connection with the military makes it less likely they’ll be questioned by border agents or have their vehicles searched if stopped.
Motz said, “We have a duty to the American people to be the most ready when the nation is least ready, and we will continue to enforce the standards of honor, courage, and commitment that serve as the great hallmarks of our Corps.”
In December, military officials said most of the Marines’ charges were dropped and handled administratively outside the military court system. A judge ruled the manner in how the arrests were made was unlawful. The commanding officer video recorded in July, the Marines being handcuffed and carted away in front of the 800-person battalion of 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.
Service members who were part of that formation in late July testified that officers described the arrested Marines as a “cancer,” according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. The commanding officer’s statements and public arrests of the Marines were deemed an example of unlawful command influence, which refers to military leaders abusing their position to influence legal proceedings.