Ladonia woman to plead guilty to immigrant smuggling conspiracy

A Ladonia woman has agreed to plead guilty to a conspiracy to smuggle more than two dozen illegal immigrants to south Florida. Kathleen Ann Roberson, 21, inked a plea agreement with federal prosecutors Friday that could subject her to up to 250 years in prison and a fine of more than $6 million, according to court records.

The deal shines new light on a February traffic stop outside Tampa that led to the arrests of Roberson, her 29-year-old neighbor, Jessica Roland, and five Mexican nationals who crossed the border in Arizona en route to Immokalee, Fla.. The new filings show the operation was larger than previously known, and that an investigation by the U.S. Border Patrol linked Roberson to an unnamed "alien smuggling organization" in Arizona.

The Russell County women set out to Florida in separate vehicles, each driving a group of illegal immigrants. The loads were forced to consolidate after Roland ran into car trouble in Tampa, court documents show.

Roland's remaining passengers -- two of the illegal immigrants abandoned the vehicle -- packed into Roberson's 2003 Kia Sorrento. The vehicle was pulled over by a deputy sheriff who noticed it had no valid license plate.

Investigators found $4,982 in Roberson's purse and another $1,000 in the center console, cash from the families of her passengers that was to be remitted to the smuggling organization. Roberson said she was to pocket $1,400 for her role.

She said she erased her cell phone's memory when she realized Border Patrol was involved.

Roland, who was indicted by a grand jury last month, was recruited to help in the deliveries by Roberson's husband, Roberto Jimenez-Delgado, an illegal immigrant living in Ladonia who has already been deported at least eight times. Jimenez-Delgado, 33, pleaded guilty to four counts on Friday before a federal magistrate.

According to court filings, the operation began after Jimenez-Delgado got a call from a person named "Chino" who needed illegal immigrants to be driven from Atlanta to Florida. Two of Roberson's aunts, Dayna Kay Godinez and Jami Gutierrez-Sanchez, allegedly drove to Atlanta and delivered a dozen or so to unknown locations in Florida; both suspects also have been indicted in the case.

Thirteen illegal immigrants, meanwhile, came to a Ladonia trailer park before departing with Roberson and Roland for south Florida. Jimenez-Delgado said he was to receive $500 for his role in organizing the delivieries.

Roberson's change of plea hearing is set for May 4.