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10 illegal immigrants found in truck
Group accused of entering country as part of human smuggling ring

LAWRENCEVILLE - Nearly a dozen people accused of entering the country as part of a possible human smuggling ring were taken into custody by Gwinnett County police Monday.

An officer from the department's Interdiction Unit stopped a 2001 Dodge pickup truck on a stretch of Interstate 85 north just south of Buford Drive after spotting the suspicious vehicle with an Arizona license plate and excessively tinted windows.

The driver, identified as 28-year-old Jose Santiago Cruz, handed police a Mexican driver's license and told authorities he was on his way to New York from Phoenix, Ariz., said Gwinnett police spokeswoman Cpl. Illana Spellman.

Police discovered six people in the bed of the pickup hidden under blankets and a small camper shell. Four others, including Cruz, were packed in the cab of the truck, police said.

According to authorities, all 10 alleged aliens are from Puebla, Mexico - a town 60 miles southeast of Mexico City.

Spellman said the arrest is the first of its nature she's heard of in Gwinnett and could not recall any other incidents with this number of suspected immigrants.

Cruz reportedly told police he was taking his passengers to the Big Apple to find employment, but authorities said he was unable to provide an exact destination in New York.

Nine men and one woman ranging in ages from 17 to 41 were taken into custody shortly after noon Monday.

Spellman could only provide the names of seven of the 10 arrested.

She said Pasqual Ramirez, 31, Perez-Ramirez Bosilio, 39, Sandra Ramirez-Velante, 24, Ismael Munoz-Nasario, 21, Augustine Pareles Escobar, 31, Gregorio Aguilar-Cerano, 41, and Miguel Ramirez, 17, were among those in the truck.

Police said Cruz nor his passengers were traveling with any luggage, but many were in possession of Mexican pesos. Their only possessions were the clothes they were wearing.

Spellman said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was contacted following the stop, and all 10 people were taken to the Gwinnett County Detention Center to be interviewed by ICE agents.

Spellman said the federal agency will continue the investigation.

A spokesperson from ICE did not return calls or e-mails Tuesday.

According to an ICE news release from October 2006, human smuggling organizations have brought large numbers of illegal aliens into the United States across remote eastern sections of Arizona's international border.

The Associated Press reported Friday 48 people accused of taking part in an immigrant trafficking ring were indicted on human smuggling and money laundering charges.

The group brought in as much as $130,000 a week moving people from Naco, Mexico, to its center of operations in Phoenix and then to destinations across the United States, Phoenix police Lt. Vince Piano said Thursday.

Piano said the ring was believed to be one of the biggest operating in Arizona, the busiest illegal entry point into the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.