LEE COUNTY, Fla.- A man arrested for indecent exposure in Lee County is now accused of transporting illegal immigrants from Texas to Florida.
A criminal complaint filed in Federal Court accuses 48-year-old Miami man Cesar Gomez-Jimenez of driving a van of illegal immigrants from Houston to Florida.
An arrest warrant on the federal charges has been served, but Gomez-Jimenez is currently in the Lee County Jail for an indecent exposure arrest.
According to documents, Lee County Deputies spotted him urinating next to his van at the Pilot Travel Center off Luckett Road in North Fort Myers February 6. When the deputy approached him, he says Gomez-Jimenez started acting nervous, and then he noticed an unusual number of people in his van.
The federal document says Gomez-Jimenez changed his story multiple times about where they were coming from. Then it says, "he stated that the eight people he picked up were from different countries to include Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. Gomez-Jimenez stated that he suspected that some of them were illegal aliens. He told agents that an unknown Hispanic male from Ecuador brought all eight people to the meeting location. Finally, Gomez-Jimenez told agents that he was being paid $1,500 to transport the aliens from Houston, TX to different locations in Florida. Additionally, Gomez-Jimenez stated that this was his second time transporting illegal aliens from Houston, TX to Florida. One of the aliens..stated he/she was en route to Miami and his/her family was going to pay $400 for his/her transportation to the final destination in Miami. Another illegal alien..stated that he/she entered the country illegally approximately 15 days ago by Reynoso, TX...stated that his/her family paid $2,800 to an unknown individual in Houston, TX."
Gomez-Jimenez also said he already dropped off two people in Orlando, one in Tampa, one was going to Fort Myers, and the others were going to Miami.
Alex Olivares, human trafficking program director for Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice, says, "it can be leading to trafficking or can just be smuggling, I hear about something like this and automatically I get concerned. A situation like that, someone is transported somewhere under false pretenses, they're told they're going to be going to work and that's when they're most vulnerable to being victimized."
He says there's a difference between smuggling and trafficking. With smuggling, "it's a business transaction and usually it's one and done, here's $4,000..I'll pay you the money and you cross me over and we go our separate ways. Trafficking theres the elements of force, fraud, and coerision."
While Gomez-Jimenez is not facing trafficking charges, Olivares says the case is troubling, especially the comments from immigrants. "That's a red flag because the person really has no life line so they come into an agreement with someone they barely know and that person has the full deck on their side. They may say give me $400, then they are halfway here and they say now it's $5,000 and if you don't pay me..I know where your family lives."
He adds, "Florida is prime ground for trafficking and smuggling. We have a lot of rural areas and a lot of agriculture. There's a need for manual labor for that agriculture. I-75 is a good area to transport people because it's rural, there's not a lot of lights, you can travel without really stopping anywhere."
If you ever see something that looks suspicious, contact authorities immediately.
Federal officials say they expect an indictment on these federal charges tomorrow.