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FHP: Man arrested for smuggling 8 people illegally into Florida in van

The van was searched and troopers say they found multiple ledgers in the driver's area, including names, destinations and prices.

HERNANDO COUNTY, Fla. — Troopers say they arrested a human smuggler with eight undocumented immigrants hidden inside a van in Hernando County.

Florida Highway Patrol stopped the van, which had an Arizona plate, on the southbound side of I-75 – just south of State Road 50.

Investigators say the van had dark, illegally tinted windows, making it impossible to see who was in the back. Seven American flag stickers were scattered across the windows.

Inside the van, air fresheners were seen hanging. Boxes of water and soda sat on the ground.

Eight people, all in the United States illegally, were crammed into the van, according to FHP. They all wore florescent yellow shirts.

A cell phone, with the GPS running, sat on the cooler next to the driver.

When asked for his license, troopers say the driver handed over a Mexican passport and expired Mexican driver's license.

FHP identified the driver as 40-year-old Javier Palma-Jenaro. He was arrested and booked into the Hernando County Jail on human smuggling-related charges, in addition to counts for driving without a valid license and using a two-way communication device to facilitate a felony.

The van had traveled across the country. A license plate reader check revealed it had been on I-40 in Gallup, New Mexico, on Tuesday. On Wednesday, it was noted to have been in Birmingham, Alabama.

A search of the van revealed "several ledgers" that had names, destinations and prices, according to FHP.

"All of the interior windows were outfitted with 'command hooks,'" an FHP report said. "In the rear of the vehicle we discovered curtains that hang on the 'command hooks' to further conceal the interior of the van. Several bags of clean yellow shirts were discovered in the rear of the van."

The van was towed.

During an interview, troopers say Palma-Jenaro admitted to picking up the eight undocumented immigrants Tuesday at a park in Phoenix. He had traveled all the way from Milwaukee to make the pick-up, troopers added.

Palma-Jenaro was supposed to drop them off at a Love's Travel Stop in Fort Myers, according to law enforcement.

At the time he was arrested, investigators say he had $3,700 cash in his pocket. Authorities say he told them he makes $250 for every person he illegally transports.

Just this week, the Florida Supreme Court granted a request by Gov. Ron DeSantis to impanel a statewide grant jury to investigate human smuggling crimes. The panel will be drawn from the 10th Judicial Circuit, meaning the grand jurors will be from Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties.

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