Camp Pendleton. File photo

Sixteen Marines were arrested Thursday at Camp Pendleton on suspicion of crimes ranging from human smuggling to drug offenses, military officials said.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents took the suspects into custody during a battalion-wide formation at the northern San Diego County military installation about 7:30 a.m., said 1st Lt. Cameron Edinburgh, a spokesman for the 1st Marine Division.

The arrestees’ names and details on the allegations against them were not immediately available.

According to a Marine Corps statement, the arrests stemmed from “information gained from a previous human-smuggling investigation.” Eight other Marines were interrogated for their alleged involvement in unrelated drug crimes, officials said.

“None of the Marines arrested or detained for questioning served in support of the Southwest Border Support mission,” according to the Marine Corps statement. “1st Marine Division is committed to justice and the rule of law, and we will continue to fully cooperate with NCIS on this matter.”

The prior case that “sort of opened the door” 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, Edinburgh said.

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 the time being,” though they could wind up in the civilian legal arena, as well, Edinburgh noted.

Updated at 2:10 p.m. July 25, 2019

–City News Service

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