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Smuggler search leads to 3 arrests

The Border Patrol, which stopped a truck on I-75, says the men were here illegally from Mexico. A fourth person fled.

Published May 19, 2006

DADE CITY - U.S. Border Patrol agents searching for smugglers of humans took three men into custody Thursday morning after pulling over their truck on Interstate 75.

A fourth got away and remained at large after a 21/2-hour search with the help of the Florida Highway Patrol and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

Border Patrol spokesman Steve McDonald said the three men were in the United States illegally from Mexico.

Agents were questioning them Thursday afternoon to determine whether they were part of a smuggling operation.

"What we're targeting out there are people who are smuggling human beings for profit," he said. "We're focusing on smugglers."

He said the Ford F-150 was southbound on I-75 near Blanton. Agents look for indicators that tip them off to smugglers, though McDonald wouldn't elaborate.

After the truck was pulled over, one person ran away.

The driver, who McDonald said is often the smuggler in such cases, was among those taken into custody.

He did not release the names of the people and said they would not be made public unless the U.S. Attorney's Office decides to prosecute anyone determined to be a smuggler.

The others would probably be held for deportation proceedings or be released pending an immigration hearing.

Thursday's operation was nothing new, McDonald said.

"We've been doing these for several years," he said.

[Last modified May 19, 2006, 03:00:21]

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