He transported people into US, agents say, but what was deleted from his cellphone?

Robert Espinal Jr.
Robert Espinal Jr.

Federal agents have obtained a search warrant to find data deleted from the cellphone of a man stopped in D’Iberville with passengers who were in the country illegally.

A magistrate judge issued the warrant Monday, authorizing advanced analysis to find the cellphone’s memory and its most recent calls, messages and contacts, court documents show.

Robert Espinal Jr., 52, of Houston, Texas, has been indicted a second time since his arrest Feb. 16, when officials say a D’Iberville police officer stopped him on a careless driving violation. His eight passengers, riding in a Kia Sorento with a Florida tag, are from Guatemala, El Salvador and Brazil and reportedly did not have permission to be in the U.S.

Espinal is set for trial on a court calender that starts Aug. 7.

Homeland Security Investigations had reviewed Espinal’s cellphone, which passengers, speaking through an interpreter, said he used to make calls during their trip, according to an affidavit for the search warrant.

HSI’s review of his phone revealed messages and call logs had been deleted, according to the document. A DEA intelligence specialist tried to find the deleted data. About 21.5 gigabytes of data from the cellphone were retrieved, but the specialist did not have the capabilities to retrieve all of it.

Espinal is free on an unsecured $25,000 bond, with his travel restricted to south Florida.

An unidentified person listed as “a material witness” was questioned about the case through an interpreter in June, a court record shows. That person is being held with no bond.

Several documents in the case have been filed under seal.

The new indictment, filed June 6, alleges Espinal conspired to transport people without authorization to be in the U.S. Two other counts, which each name an undocumented person, allege he transported them and others for financial gain in reckless disregard of the law.

The first indictment charged him with one count of illegal transportation.

Border Patrol agents determined none of the eight passengers were authorized to visit the U.S. Six males and two females were arrested, the affidavit said. They were said to be between ages 19 to 49 at the time.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews