SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Sixteen active U.S. Marines were arrested on Thursday at California’s Camp Pendleton on charges that included human smuggling and drug-related offenses, officials said.
The Marines were arrested during a battalion formation at the base, which is about an hour’s drive from the U.S.-Mexico border. A human smuggling investigation by the military led to the arrests.
“It was a public display for the entire unit to see,” 1st Lt. Cameron Edinburgh, a division spokesman, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“None of the Marines arrested or detained for questioning served in support of the Southwest Border Support mission,” the Marine Corps said in a news release.
The arrests come only weeks after two Camp Pendleton-based Marines were arrested near the border by a Border Patrol agent. The two Marines were accused of smuggling three Mexicans into the United States.
The Marines, Byron Darnell Law II and David Javier Salazar-Quintero, were arrested on July 3 in east San Diego County, the Union-Tribune reported. They face one felony count of seeking monetary compensation for moving unauthorized immigrants into the country after they had crossed the border, the report said.
The Marine Corps said information gained from those arrests led to Thursday's arrests.
The Marine Corps confirmed to the Union-Tribune that the Marines involved in Thursday’s action are from the same unit as Law and Salazar-Quintero, which is the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.
The Marines arrested Thursday are charged with various crimes ranging from human smuggling to drug-related offenses, officials said.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service carried out the arrests. For the moment, the 16 Marines are in NCIS custody and will be prosecuted by the Marines, Edinburg told the paper. Law and Salazar-Quintero are being prosecuted in federal court, he said.
Another eight Marines are being questioned about their alleged involvement in drug offenses as part of a separate investigation.
"1st Marine Division is committed to justice and the rule of law, and we will continue to fully cooperate with Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) on this matter," officials said in a statement. "Any Marines found to be in connection with these alleged activities will be questioned and handled accordingly with respect to due process."
The 16 Marines arrested range in rank from private first class to corporal, or E-2 to E-4, according to Edinburgh.
Officials did not release the names or genders of the arrested Marines. Additional details of the alleged offenses were also not immediately released. Officials did not immediately respond for additional comment.
Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps' largest base on the West Coast, is about 55 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.