A Cuban citizen who is a permanent legal resident of the United States living in Georgia admitted in federal court Friday that he has been illegally smuggling foreigners from Houston to Southeastern states, including Mississippi and Florida, since at least August 2013.
U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden told Carlos Manuel Legra-Ramirez, 43, that a guilty plea means he could face deportation in separate legal proceedings.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stan Harris told the judge what the government would have been able to prove about Legra-Ramirez's smuggling activities if the case had gone to trial.
Harris described Interstate 10 as a "known smuggling route" for undocumented workers driven from Houston to the Southeastern states.
Legra-Ramirez, or a car registered to him, had been stopped on multiple occasions since 2013 — in Mobile, Alabama; Lakeland, Florida, and D'Iberville.
A Cuban national pulled over in 2013, in a vehicle registered to Legra-Ramirez, told authorities a group of Cuban nationals was engaged in smuggling, Harris said.
Legra-Ramirez was arrested and charged with a federal crime after a U.S. Border Patrol agent pulled him over for speeding on I-10 in Harrison County. The agent said Legra-Ramirez was driving a Toyota Highlander with 10 passengers inside.
Legra-Ramirez said the passengers were friends but could not remember their names. Outside the SUV, Legra-Ramirez flipped a folded piece of paper from his shorts pockets. On the paper, the agent said, were the names of the passengers and beside the names dollar amounts for smuggling them.
Legra-Ramirez said he was headed with the passengers from Houston to Florida and Atlanta.
Harris did not specify how much Legra-Ramirez was being paid. The passengers were turned over to border patrol in Gulfport, where agents determined that four of them had previously been deported for illegal entry into the United States and the other six were in the country illegally.
The passengers were from Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras.
Legra-Ramirez faces up to 10 years in prison. Ozerden scheduled his sentencing for 9:30 a.m. Sept. 7.