Lance Cpls. Byron Darnell Law II and David Javier Salazar-Quintero, based in Camp Pendleton, Calif., were arraigned Monday in federal court on charges of transporting undocumented immigrants “for financial gain,” accused of taking jobs from “recruiters” and following instructions from unknown people in Mexico to make extra cash on the side.
The three passengers admitted to authorities that they were Mexican citizens in the country illegally — and had been picked up from the side of the road by a black car driven by Law.
Two of the three immigrants said they planned to fork over $8,000 to get into the US. They expected to settle in Los Angeles and New Jersey, court documents say.
Law and Salazar-Quintero, said they also picked up another illegal immigrant near the same place about 10:30 p.m. last Tuesday. They drove the man to a McDonald’s parking lot in Del Mar, where he was picked up by somebody else.
In this case, the Marines fell under suspicion on July 3 after a Border Patrol agent saw a black vehicle momentarily park in the dirt median of Interstate 8 near Jacumba Hot Springs, Calif. Then, he spotted footprints in the dirt seeming to lead toward the car, according to a federal complaint. He thought the footprints might belong to migrants.
The agent radioed his colleagues to look out for the black BMW, and in a matter of minutes the Marines were pulled over and asked for papers. The three men in the back seat, each from Mexico, admitted they were in the country illegally, according to the complaint.
In interviews with authorities, the Marines appeared to blame each other for how they ended up in trouble.
Law said it was Salazar-Quintero who offered him the job of picking up undocumented immigrants. Salazar-Quintero told agents that Law was the one who introduced him to the world of smuggling jobs, saying he met the “recruiter” through Law.
Sometimes he met the recruiter at a bedding store called Between The Sheets, Salazar-Quintero said, according to the complaint. Sometimes they met at the recruiter’s apartment. On four occasions, Salazar-Quintero said, the recruiter sent him to Jacumba Hot Springs, Calif., to pick up immigrants, with the first trip being a bust.
They are among several active-duty U.S. troops charged or convicted in recent years of helping immigrants cross the border in exchange for money, highlighting how smugglers have sought to offer the shield of a uniform or credentials to assist desperate immigrants on the journey north. Each previous case has largely followed the same rubric: A small group of immigrants is shepherded into the back seat of the car; the troops are caught during a traffic stop or at a routine checkpoint.
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