A man suspected of smuggling undocumented immigrants had eight passengers in his vehicle when a D’Iberville police officer pulled him over in a traffic stop, a court document says.
Robert Espinal Jr., 50, of Houston is held on suspicion of transporting immigrants who don’t have permission to be in the United States.
His passengers, ages 19 to 49, were from Guatemala, El Salvador and Brazil, and none of them speak English, a Homeland Security Investigations agent said in an affidavit filed in federal court. Two of the passengers were women and the other six were men.
Espinal was eastbound on Interstate 10 on Feb. 16 when a D’Iberville police officer stopped him on a careless driving charge at mile marker 46. The Kia Sorento he was driving had a Florida tag. A Sorento generally can seat five to seven people.
The police officer does not speak Spanish, so Border Patrol agents went to the scene. Espinal and his passengers were arrested and taken to the Gulfport Border Patrol station.
The group reportedly was heading to Miami.
Espinal told HSI agents he had borrowed $5,000 from a person in Houston and he had agreed to pay back $10,000, the agent said.
Espinal reportedly said he had received a phone call in late January and was told he needed to start driving people to Miami at a fee of $300 per person to reduce his debt.
According to the affidavit, Espinal said he had driven five people to Miami after that phone call. He also received a phone call Feb. 14 and was told to drive eight people to Miami. The group stayed overnight at his apartment and they were heading to Florida when they were stopped on the outskirts of D’Iberville.
Espinal admitted he knew those he was transporting were in the U.S. illegally, the agent said.
He is held for federal marshals pending a grand jury review of the allegations.
The complaint does not say what happened to his eight passengers.