A traffic stop on a van on I-24 near Manchester, Tn., has turned up a driver and 16 Hispanics that authorities said were being smuggled into the U.S.
The driver, Jesus Andres Lujan Jr., is facing federal smuggling charges after he and those in the van were taken to Chattanooga to be interviewed.
The 2004 Chevrolet Express van was stopped by a state trooper on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.
Lujan said he believed all 16 individuals crammed into the van were in the U.S. illegally.
He said he was being paid $50 each to transport them from Houston, Tex.
Lujan said he was dealing in Houston with Javier Torrez. Authorities said the insurance on the van was in the name of Torrez.
Lujan said the individuals were already in the van when he arrived in Houston to drive them north. He said he did not personally know any of them.
He said he was suppose to take them to a Waffle House at Doraville, Ga. However, authorities said Lujan's cell phone was on a table while he was being interviewed and agents could see messages from Torrez about a delivery to Charlotte, N.C.
Lujan said he thought the "stash house" for the individuals was somewhere near I-45 North and Gulf Bank in Houston.
Three of the individuals in the van were interviewed. They said they thought they were being taken to Atlanta to work. They said none of them had yet paid their smuggling fees.
They said members of the smuggling organization had threatened them multiple times and on occasions had taken their shoes to prevent them from escaping.
They said Lujan had not threatened them, but they said he appeared to be very familiar with how the smuggling operation worked.