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Press Release

Former Marine Who Led Double Life as Drug Trafficker Sentenced to 12 Years; Defendant Contacted Mexican Songwriter to Glorify him in Narco-Ballad

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California


SAN DIEGO – Roberto Salazar II, who until his arrest was an active-duty U.S. Marine stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, was sentenced in federal court to 144 months in prison for his role in a years-long drug importation and distribution conspiracy that involved dozens of smuggling events.

Salazar pleaded guilty in October 2022 to conspiring to distribute controlled substances, including heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and fentanyl, and to importing fentanyl into the United States from Mexico. According to his plea agreement, Salazar recruited, managed, and paid multiple drug couriers—both before he joined the Marine Corps and while he was on active duty. He also personally distributed controlled substances within the United States.

According to court documents, Salazar and his co-conspirators favored the use of specific model cars with a unique engine compartment they used to conceal and import drugs. Salazar helped to obtain these specific cars and deliver them to a business in Mexico, where couriers would be directed to retrieve the cars with drugs loaded inside them and drive them across the border.

By the time Salazar and his codefendants were arrested, according to prosecutors, Salazar had become so involved in drug trafficking that he was commissioning a Mexican songwriter to write a drug ballad known as a “narcocorrido” about him. Information gathered from Salazar’s seized cell phones showed he was in communication with a Mexican songwriter about writing music and lyrics celebrating his role in drug trafficking, including references to his military service.

In one line that Salazar suggested to the songwriter, he boasted: “I wanted to study and became a soldier, but I liked the fast life better.”

Among the individuals Salazar personally recruited were two former service members who had recently been discharged from the Marine Corps at the time Salazar recruited them. Salazar directed these individuals’ activities and paid them $2,000 each time they successfully imported drugs. Several of the drug couriers who worked for Salazar or his co-conspirators, including one of the former Marines recruited by Salazar, were caught at the border by Customs and Border Protection officers and charged with importing controlled substances. In another failed attempt to deliver drugs in Las Vegas, one of Salazar’s co-conspirators abandoned a kilogram of heroin on a grocery store shelf and fled from law enforcement.

“This case involved a Marine who was supposed to protect and defend our country, but instead brought great harm to Americans by trafficking fentanyl and other dangerous drugs,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “He also betrayed his solemn oath by recruiting other Marines to do the same. Through this case, the defendant has been held to account for his crimes and we have dismantled yet another link in the supply chain for the deadly narcotics that are indiscriminately killing members of our community.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team, Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for their outstanding work on this case.

“While disheartened by an individual who hid in the ranks of our prestigious U.S. military, this should serve as a warning to any would-be narcotics smugglers, that you cannot hide your nefarious crimes and you will be held accountable,” said Chad Plantz, Special Agent in Charge of HSI San Diego. “Today’s sentencing is a result of ongoing HSI investigation, in collaboration with our law enforcement partners, to disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations and their importation of deadly narcotics into the U.S.”

“Mr. Salazar betrayed his oath to the Marine Corps and posed a significant threat to our national security by participating in an illegal operation to smuggle fentanyl into the United States,” said Special Agent in Charge Todd Battaglia of the NCIS Marine Corps West Field Office. “NCIS and our partners remain committed to fully investigating all allegations of criminality within the ranks that threaten military readiness and jeopardize the safety of our community members.” 

"Through his actions Mr. Salazar violated his duty as a Marine, dishonored the public's trust and promoted conditions that endangered the safety of the people,” said Sidney K. Aki, Director of Field Operations for San Diego Field Office. “National security efforts, which include narcotics interdictions, must remain our primary focus. Today’s sentencing is a clear indication of the strong partnership that continues in San Diego between federal agencies.”

DEFENDANT                                                           Case Number 22-cr-216-JLS                                   

Roberto Salazar II                               Age: 26                       San Diego, CA                   144 months

Jose Ernesto Lopez (2)                       Age: 24                       Bell Gardens, CA               70 months

Juan Carlos Zepeda-Santos (3)           Age: 40                       Lynwood, CA                               33 months

SUMMARY OF CHARGES                                                                                   

Conspiracy to Distribute Heroin, Methamphetamine, Cocaine, and Fentanyl – Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841 and 846

Mandatory Minimum: Ten years in prison

Maximum penalties: Life in prison and $10 million fine

Importation of Fentanyl – Title 21, United States Code, Sections 952 and 960

Mandatory Minimum: Ten years in prison

Maximum penalties: Life in prison and $10 million fine


Homeland Security Investigations

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Naval Criminal Investigative Service


Assistant U. S. Attorneys Robert J. Miller (619) 546-8403 and Michael A. Deshong (619) 546-9290

Updated April 21, 2023

Drug Trafficking
Press Release Number: CAS23-0421-Salazar