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Inside a Massive Human Smuggling Ring Lead by US Marines marines

By: April Carson

The Marines were young, low-paid, and clean-cut, making them "perfect" recruits to smuggle people for money.

Byron Law knew what he was doing was wrong. But the profits were much too attractive to resist. The 20-year-old and his companion left for another run in Law's black BMW on July 3, 2019, eager to earn some more money before the lengthy weekend ended. They hoped to be done with it by noon at the latest.

The SUV turned onto a dirt patch on the side of the highway about seven miles north of the US–Mexico border. Two men and a woman emerged from their hiding place, ran down the hill, and climbed into Law's car as it drove down the highway someplace in the vast expanse of sand, shrubs, and granite rock. Each was carrying a backpack. Their shoes were dirty with grass and mud.

The border, in and of itself, is only the beginning for the hundreds of people who illegally enter the United States every day: There are a hundred miles of roadblocks and toll plazas on main roads and freeways that continue into Texas, Arizona, and California's interior. Migrants rely on smugglers to hide them along the route in order to avoid being caught.

They weren't just any criminals, either. They were US Marines, charged with upholding the country's principles and laws.

One of a dozen or so Marines in the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton who began smuggling migrants into the United States in the spring and summer of 2019—even as thousands of their fellow Marines were deployed to the border to bolster security. They were going on several runs each week, communicating amongst themselves to see who was free, and creating excuses to get out of training sessions in order to make a few hundred dollars at their peak, according To court documents.

The Marines made the ideal smugglers precisely because no one would ever expect them. They picked up migrants just north of the US border and moved them a hundred miles deep into Mexico in the last and arguably most hazardous stage of the smuggling trip.

The discovery of a smuggling operation at Camp Pendleton demonstrates the widespread recruitment of military members and Border Patrol agents into the billion-dollar criminal industry, despite American officials' claims that smugglers are accomplices to ruthless cartels.

Recruiters value uniformed personnel, many of whom are fresh out of high school and lured by the prospect of quick money. Camp Pendleton, a major West Coast Marine base in Southern California, has a lucrative recruiting pool.

“Having public employees go out and collect for us was a fantastic concept, and we knew no one would think anything of it,” Francisco Rojas Hernández, the man who enlisted at least 10 Marines from the base, said to me while incarcerated in a federal prison in California in July 2021.

There was no indication to the attorneys and their client David Salazar-Quintero that they would be detained on Wednesday, July 17, 2018. That day, two more Camp Pendleton Marines were transporting migrants north. It was Law's fifth run and Salazar-Quintero's fourth. The pair had completed a run the night before. They most likely would have succeeded this time if not for a U.S. Border Patrol agent who was patrolling the area looking for people trying to cross illegally into the United States. The agent noticed Law's BMW pull off the road and make a U-turn within a minute, and he immediately began driving in the opposite direction.

At a quarter-mile up the road, Border Patrol agents waited for Law to pass before pulling him over. The plot unraveled instantly. The rear seat passengers acknowledged being in the country illegally and said they were smuggled by Law and Salazar-Quintero.

At 10:17 a.m., the group's arrest resulted in one of the most notorious scandals in Marine Corps history, as well as the detaining of 16 more Marines at Camp Pendleton for smuggling. Another eight were interrogated about drug charges.

During the spring and summer of 2019, a military prosecutor at the 20-year-old's court martial hearing stated that "Law 'ran a flourishing criminal organization' here at Camp Pendleton."

“He planned, coordinated, and executed the transportation of illegal aliens and the distribution of drugs for financial gain, right under the nose of not just his command, but also military and federal law enforcement. It is both shocking and sad to think that hundreds if not thousands of dollars in cartel money were flowing through Camp Pendleton.” Last year, Marine Corps Times writer Shawn Snow wrote an in-depth series on Marines smuggling drugs into the United States.

Along with human trafficking, Law was charged with conspiring to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. That's about 2,200 pounds.

“He adorned his office with narcotic items and clearly saw himself as another Pablo Escobar,” says U.S. District Attorney Laura Duffy of the arrest and conviction of Justin Dacosta-Montano. While he may have gone undetected for years, his arrest and conviction send a very clear message: it is far better to be a drug dealer in Afghanistan or Iraq than to bring those illegal drugs back here to the United States.

“There are dozens of former military members smuggling between 200 and 1,000 kilos of drugs each month through Camp Pendleton. ” - 13-6 Investigation Findings According to the San Diego Union Tribune , 10 percent of U.S. Marines are engaging in criminal activities while serving on active duty. The crimes range from large-scale drug trafficking to brutal murders, with the common thread of involvement by both active and veteran Marines alike.

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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