Several Camp Pendleton Marines were recently convicted on sex-related charges

By CARL PRINE | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: February 17, 2018

SAN DIEGO — Several Camp Pendleton, California-based Marines have been found guilty in recent weeks of crimes including rape and child pornography, with other similar cases still pending in the military criminal justice system, records show.

The cases are coming to light after a series of Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the San Diego Union-Tribune over the past four months. Documents released by the Marines revealed that some of the most serious cases were tied to senior leaders like former Chief Warrant Officer E. DeLeon Jr.

At a Camp Pendleton court-martial last month, a military judge convicted DeLeon of possessing and distributing child pornography. The judge sentenced him to seven years behind bars, but a pretrial agreement capped his imprisonment at five years.

Highly redacted records trace DeLeon’s crimes back to Nov. 26, 2016, at Camp Pendleton, when he distributed a digital image of a child engaging in sex. Three days earlier, he had communicated to an unidentified person his desire to molest “a little girl,” an act he thought “sounds amazing,” according to his records.

Camp Pendleton Lance Cpl. M.F. Currington was found guilty of abusing anabolic steroids and sexually abusing a child. He was sentenced to three years in prison. Currington’s charges stemmed from a late 2016 investigation into steroid and drug paraphernalia possession, according to records.

Another Camp Pendleton Marine, Lance Cpl. B.J. Morton, also was convicted last month of possessing and distributing child pornography. He was demoted to private and was given a bad-conduct discharge.

He was jailed Aug. 14 after investigators accused him of possessing three videos and other sexually explicit images of children, according to his records.

Several cases involve Marines accused of sneaking into other service member’s rooms to assault or grope them.

For example, Lance Cpl. J.P. Hill was convicted last month of sexual assault causing harm, abusive sexual contact and making an indecent recording. He crept into the room of a fellow Marine at night to assault her and photographed her when she was naked, according to records.

He was sentenced to two years in prison, was demoted to private and was given a dishonorable discharge.

L.M. Schmidt, a Marine assigned to Yuma, Arizona, was charged Aug. 17 with entering an unnamed servicemember’s barracks to touch the person’s hips to gratify his sexual desires, according to the court records.

Another Yuma Marine, Sgt. C.S. Panatta, is accused of raping a child younger than 12 there in 2016. Commanders also filed two charges tied to suspected lewd incidents involving another child younger than 16 about the same time.

He faces a third set of charges linked to suspected child abuse in 2014 and 2015 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California. He’s accused of beating a child with a fly swatter, punching a child’s face, slamming a child in the head with a door and attempting to suffocate a child with a pillow, according to records released to the Union-Tribune.

Panatta has been in pretrial confinement for a year.

Another Marine assigned to an aviation unit, P. Wiredu of Miramar’s Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3, was charged in 2015 with committing three 2013 rapes in or near San Diego, according to heavily redacted records released to the Union-Tribune.

Marine officials declined to comment.

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