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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Pendleton Marines The Latest In A List Of Officials With Ties To Human Smuggling

 September 26, 2019 at 10:29 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 More details are emerging from the charges filed against a 13 Marines accused in connection with a human trafficking operation. KPBS military reporter Steve wall, she looks at how this fits in with the history of smuggling in San Diego. Speaker 2: 00:15 The Marines are accused of being part of a ring that transported migrants from the border to locations in central and Northern San Diego County. They were all junior Marines. None of them made more than $23,000 a year. The 28 pages of redacted charge sheets released by the Marine show that all 13 charged or from the fifth regimen at camp Pendleton, their battalion can be seen drilling in camp Pendleton in this defense department. Video taken in September six are charged directly with driving migrants from the Mexico border. The earliest cases from may 19 the most recent cases from July 10th one Marine is accused of smashing a cell phone to conceal evidence. The charges STEM from an investigation prompted by the July 3rd arrest of two Marines. Border patrol agents had spotted three migrants climbing into a civilian car on the side of the highway close to the border, their own Francisco border patrol spokesman said smugglers often enlist young drivers who aren't familiar with San Diego Speaker 3: 01:14 that are not familiar with the border patrol or how the border region works. And that just plays in the hands of the smugglers. They don't give them a lot of information. They keep it very vague. Can I just need to pick up some people at this known location and bring them back here Speaker 2: 01:26 in exchange for driving migrans North from the Mexico border to a safe house, the two Marines who are originally charged say smugglers promised to pay them $1,000. Speaker 3: 01:36 I think it's a benefit on their behalf to have a, a Marine or somebody in law enforcement to be a potential lo driver. Uh, they may see that as a, uh, a positive just because of their uniform or their job status that we may overlook or give them some sense of a leniency. Speaker 2: 01:51 Last year in California, national guardsman was arrested for a similar attempt. Smugglers have worked with Marines at camp Pendleton as early as 1979 that's when a group of Marines and their wives were discovered to have moved several thousand undocumented migrants through camp Pendleton as a way to avoid a border patrol checkpoint. The lure of what some people see as easy money enjoys widespread appeal. Pedro Rios with the American friends service committee, which works with migrants, says plenty of people without ties to the military get caught up in smuggling. Speaker 4: 02:23 The fact that there's a border wall doesn't stop this type of activity from taking place on either side. There's always been an attempt to infiltrate some of the agencies such as a border patrol and exploit some of the loopholes that they have. Speaker 2: 02:38 Rios has worked with immigration issues since the 1990s he says these networks have become more elaborate as measures to maintain the border have become more restrictive. Speaker 4: 02:46 If the Marines were infiltrated in this way, might there be other agencies in the law enforcement world that have been infiltrated as well? Speaker 2: 02:56 He's right. The highest profile smuggling case in San County involves not the Marines, but two brothers who worked as agents for the border patrol. Fidel and Rodell DRAL were convicted in 2013 of taking Grimes to move migrants across the border in San Diego. In 2018 Randall's attorney argued that his 30 plus years sentence should be lowered before a panel that included federal appellate court judge Susan Graber. Speaker 1: 03:21 These folks violated their trust and did exactly the opposite of what they were hired by the people to do. Speaker 2: 03:29 In the most recent case involving the Marines, the ring isn't described as being nearly as sophisticated as the one involving the two convicted border patrol agents. The Marines aren't releasing the names until the convening authority decides which Marines will face courts. Marshal federal officials have dropped the case. It Ken's the two original Marines charged with human smuggling so they can be tried in military court. Interesting fact. The smuggler never paid. The two Marines originally arrested in July. The border patrol says it's a sign of how hard nosed human traffickers can be with the people they recruit. Speaker 1: 04:03 This story was produced by the American Homefront project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans funding comes from the corporation for public broadcasting. Joining me is KPBS military reporter Steve Walsh. Steve, welcome. Hi Maureen. So how are the Marines who are not charged with directly driving migrants from the border? How are they even connected to this case? Speaker 2: 04:27 Well, they're all connected. If you remember back on July 25th, you had a number of Marines arrested from their formation at camp Pendleton. Uh, then they went through the process of seeing who could be charged with what you have six charges, uh, you know, six Marines facing the most serious charge. That's the human smuggling charge. And then the rest of them are all charged with a variety of other offenses, including larceny, uh, drunkenness, uh, perjury. Uh, in one case, uh, one of the Marines is accused of, uh, destroying a cell phone that was evidence failure to obey an order. So a whole range of crimes. They're all connected with this case. But, uh, as I said, only six are charged with human trafficking. Speaker 1: 05:09 Tell us more of what you learned about the use of Marines or other military or law enforcement personnel to smuggle people in from Mexico. Why are they thought to be good traffickers? Speaker 2: 05:20 For a number of reasons. One of them is because of the uniform. The thought that may be, that would be significant. Maybe people wouldn't scrutinize them as much as, as other people. But uh, you know, in some cases it's just because they fit the demographic and the profile for these, uh, human traffickers, the people at the very low end of the scale that are basically just driving people back and forth. Uh, if it's not a Marine, then maybe it's a, it's a high school student, a college kid. Some of these people are recruited on Craigslist. Uh, they like to target people who aren't from San Diego. Let's say. If you're not from San Diego and maybe you're from Alabama and you hear a lot about open borders and, and we need to build walls and things like that and nobody's watching the border, you might think that this is really easy because nobody is out there watching. So they like to target people who are not from border areas to do this kind of a job because they're just a little more naive. Also, Marines don't get paid very much, especially at the Lance corporal level. So, uh, money is an incentive. Speaker 1: 06:17 That's what I was going to ask. So it is all about the money then for them, for the Marines who are doing this. Speaker 2: 06:21 I think in a lot of ways it is a Lance corporal makes $23,000 a year. That's you get room and board. Sure. But, uh, that's not a lot of money. And so they had this huge incentive that you can make $500. We just going through the court documents that they were told they were going to make $500 in one case, $1,000 for doing this and then in, as we heard in the feature, and they're not even always paid. And that's actually part of the whole strategy. Uh, you don't pay somebody for the first time, but you tell them, Oh well we'll get you the next time. Again, targeting people who may be a little more naive and thinking like, well, you know, I'm, I'm not going to go to the police about this, right, because I'm involved in human smuggling. I'll give these guys one more chance. Speaker 1: 07:00 Is there an ongoing investigation into the people who are supposed to have contacted these Marines to engage in human smuggling? Speaker 2: 07:08 Well, this is all being handled now. This started off in, in federal court, right? The first two Marines who were arrested on July 3rd, Lance corporal Byron law and David [inaudible] in-utero, they, they were, uh, they were arrested by border patrol and this was a federal case. And you had federal law enforcement working on this. Now all of this, including those two original Marines had been switched over to military court. So it, you have to wonder how much of this NTIs case is going to involve really tracking down the larger network. Since NCA, I S is responsibility is the military itself. Speaker 1: 07:40 It's pretty shocking, uh, to learn from your report that Marines were involved in human smuggling way back in the 1970s. What happened to that smuggling ring? Speaker 2: 07:50 Uh, this is fascinating. Um, yes, you go back to the archives of the San Diego union and you find back in the day in 1979, this was just wide open. A lot of things were going on in camp Pendleton in the years after the Vietnam war. And one of them they found out in 1979 where these human smuggling rings, there's a checkpoint up near the Northern part of San Diego County and they were smuggling people through camp Pendleton. Um, they found that a 200 to 300 people were being smuggled per month from camp Pendleton all the way up to LA. So yeah, they, it was just completely wide open at the time and it was, um, it was quite a shock to people at camp Pendleton that they had all of this traffic going through their borders. Speaker 1: 08:33 Now, if the Marines are found guilty in the court martial proceeding, what penalty do they face? Speaker 2: 08:39 Well, we know the most serious charge is the human smuggling. Um, I don't have a lot of details because they have not given us some of the very pertinent details on this. The most serious charges are the human smuggling. Um, so far they haven't even given us the names of anybody was charged. Uh, in military court we only know the names of the original two who were charged in federal court. The way this works there is a process. It's a little bit different from civilian courts. This will all be up to our convening authority. They will have to decide who will be charged, who will actually go to court martial and who might face what's called, uh, a nonjudicial punishment. They might be punished without going to trial. So we're going to know now in the next several weeks just how many of these cases are going to be tried in court and whether or not they'll be tried together. Speaker 1: 09:28 And was this very public, uh, arrest of these Marines in, during morning formation last summer? Was that for deterrence Speaker 2: 09:39 only was where it certainly does appear though that if nothing else, the Marines wanted to show that they were taking this very seriously. Once two of their Marines were arrested by the border patrol, they not only, uh, arrested these Marines at their formation and, and a number of Marines with them. They also sent out a press release announcing that they had done this and they even announced this to the Washington press Corps. So it may was intended really to make national news. So certainly there's a certain amount of deterrence value. Speaker 1: 10:09 I've been speaking with KPBS military reporter Steve Walsh. Steve. Thank you. Thanks, Maureen. Speaker 5: 10:19 [inaudible].

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More details are emerging from the charges filed against 13 Marines accused in connection with a human trafficking operation.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments