Ladonia women charged with transporting illegal immigrants to Florida

Two Ladonia women arrested this month in a Tampa suburb have been charged in federal court with transporting several illegal immigrants from Russell County to Florida.

Kathleen Ann Roberson, 21, and Jessica Roland, 29, left Phenix City on Feb. 3 in separate vehicles en route to south Florida. They drew attention from law enforcement the next day after Roland had trouble with her minivan and parked it in Tampa.

Roland and her passengers piled into Roberson's Kia Sorrento at a Circle K, according to court documents, and they were later pulled over in Hillsborough County by a deputy sheriff who noticed the SUV had no license plate and was carrying seven people.

Roland, who has also been known as Jessica Elmer, was found sitting in the back of the vehicle and allegedly had a small amount of cocaine, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Roberson, meanwhile, was found to be carrying nearly $6,000 cash.

About half an hour after the stop, a U.S. Border Patrol agent arrived and began interviewing the people in the car.

"The six passengers were questioned regarding their citizenship, and from their responses I determined that five were foreign nationals illegally present in the U.S.," agent Jeremy Farner said in a criminal complaint.

Five Mexican nationals were taken into federal custody, including one who had been deported on Dec. 28 from Del Rio, Texas. At least four of them crossed the border into Arizona last month, according to court filings.

Roberson told investigators she knew her passengers were illegal immigrants, and said she was to collect $100 for each person she delivered to Immokalee, Fla., southeast of Fort Myers, according to the affidavit.

Roland, however, denied knowing the passengers were in the country illegally "despite the fact that they spoke little to no English and she had a difficult time communicating with them," the affidavit says. Roland said she was helping Roberson transport "close family friends" to Immokalee, the affidavit says, and was using Roberson "to get away" from issues at home.

Border Patrol agents seized the SUV and the cash. Roberson was charged with no valid driver's license and transporting illegal aliens. Roland was charged with possession of cocaine and transporting illegal aliens. Both are being held in the Hillsborough County Jail.

The Mexican nationals were ordered into federal custody in Tampa after an initial court appearance. They are Flora Flores-Salinas, 18; Teresa Quintas-Osorio, 27; Ramon Juarez-Martinez, 27; Artemio Perez-Abarca, 35; and Salvador Hernandez-Mendez, 18.