A frozen river, a basement, a motel and the taxi ride into the hands of US authorities

The snowmobile smuggling her across the frozen St. Lawrence River broke down before reaching the other shore.

By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The snowmobile smuggling her across the frozen St. Lawrence River broke down before reaching the other shore.

The woman, identified as “Confidential Source 2” or “CS-2” in a federal U.S. court document, was briefly stranded on the ice until someone arrived to make repairs. When the snowmobile again started purring it travelled to a white house near the shore in St. Regis Village, Akwesasne. The village is in Quebec, within Canadian territory, but is only accessible through the U.S.

It had already been a long journey for the woman, described in the court document as hailing from a country in the Caribbean, and it was about to get worse, eventually leading her to a stay at the Great View Motel in Fort Covington, NY and then a cab ride into the hands of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

Her story, and that of a group of Polish nationals who were also caught on U.S. soil after being smuggled across the St. Lawrence River in February, is detailed in documents filed in August with the U.S. federal court’s Northern New York District. The documents offer a revealing glimpse into the human smuggling networks that pass through Akwesasne with tendrils stretching from Toronto to New York City, from Philadelphia to New Jersey.

Akwesasne straddles the Canada-U.S. border and is also divided by the boundaries of New York State, Quebec and Ontario. The St. Lawrence River flows through this complicated multi-jurisdictional area. Two sections of Akwesasne, St. Regis Village and Snye, sit in Canadian territory and hug the river, but both are only accessible by road through the U.S. The roads from both areas cross an unguarded international border with only speed limit signs, switching from kilometres to miles, indicating a change in country.

CS-2’s journey across the river began in Toronto, 437 km west of Akwesasne. According to an affidavit supporting a criminal complaint against Akwesasne residents John Benedict and Angela Johnson, who were eventually indicted on conspiracy to bring aliens into the U.S., she flew in to Pearson International Airport on Feb. 1 and stayed with friends in the city.

The affidavit, signed by U.S. Border Patrol agent Jay Stiles, states that CS-2 wanted to visit family in a “large city in the Eastern Coast of the United States.” It also states that her friends put her in touch with an “alien smuggler” in the U.S. who charged her $9,000 US for the trip across the border.

She was allegedly picked up in Toronto on Feb. 23 by two men who drove a gold coloured van. The men picked up two other women in the city and then drove East on Hwy 401 to the Monte Carlo Motel in Cornwall, Ont., which sits across the river from Akwesasne. Once they were all booked into one room, the men demanded payment.

The next day, the three women were picked up in same gold van and driven to a mall parking lot in Cornwall where they were taken by taxi to a lighthouse on Cornwall Island, which sits in the St. Lawrence River and is part of Akwesasne Mohawk territory in Canada.

A blue van arrived at the same spot at around the same time carrying four men and one woman. Then, several snowmobiles appeared. The man who was driving the gold van handed one of the snowmobile drivers an envelope with cash, the affidavit alleges.

The five people from the blue van were put into a sled towed by a snowmobile and taken across the frozen river. The three women were then told to hop onto the back of the other snowmobiles and they crossed the ice.

Once at the white house in St. Regis Village, the three women were told by a “heavy-set Native American” woman who lived there to get down into the basement.

While the women waited in the house, another load arrived on shore. This time it was a group of four Poles who were also being smuggled into the U.S. from Canada.

The Polish connection

A man, identified as “Confidential Source 1” or “CS-1” in the affidavit, was at the house when the Poles arrived. The man driving the snowmobile offered CS-1 $800 US to drive the Poles from the house to a Wal-Mart parking lot in Massena, NY.

A Mitsubishi Galant with New Jersey license plates and two men inside was circling the parking lot when CS-1 arrived with his carload of Poles, who quickly switched vehicles. It was 7:55 p.m. on Feb. 24. The Galant pulled out onto State Route 420 and headed west, only to be stopped five minutes later by a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

A separate “confidential source” had tipped off authorities about the movement of “illegal aliens” and the area was under surveillance.

The car was allegedly driven by a man from Belarus named Mikita Palaukov who was allegedly accompanied by Oleh Solomon, originally from the Ukraine.

Solomon allegedly said he was being paid by a “friend” in Philadelphia who wanted him to transport the Poles to Brooklyn in New York City.

Two of the four Poles had previously been deported from the U.S. They both pled guilty to “unlawful re-entry into the U.S.” One of the four was old and ailing and agents decided against charging him. The fourth had no record of having been deported from the U.S. and pleaded guilty to entering the U.S. without inspection.

Things fall apart

Back at the house, things were going wrong for CS-2. The three women faced a demand for an extra $900 US which was handed over. The basement was “filthy, dirty, cold and had soda bottles that appeared to be filled with urine on the floor as well as human feces.” CS-2 told investigators “the stench was horrible and she felt claustrophobic.” She wasn’t allowed to open the basement door. It was slammed in her face, the affidavit states.

“CS-2 had to urinate in a cup in the basement because there was no bathroom. No food or water was provided to three women in the cold basement until the next day,” said the affidavit.

At about midnight on Feb. 25, a second “Native American” woman told them they would be taken to a warehouse and picked up by a blue van. No blue van appeared at the warehouse and they went back to the white house and down into the basement. CS-2 was eventually allowed to make a phone call and she contacted “her American smuggler.” But she had been cut loose. The smuggler told her that “she could not pick her up due to a death in the family.”

CS-2 wanted to return to Canada, but was told she didn’t have enough money for a return journey and that the river was melting.

At 7 p.m. they were finally driven by a young man aged about 21 to the Great View Motel in Fort Covington, NY, along Route 37. They were told to lie down in the back for the 15 minute journey. One of the women booked a room in the motel and called a taxi from Malone, NY. They wanted to go to Albany, NY.

Unbeknownst to the women, U.S. Border Patrol agents received a tip a female “illegal alien” was staying in room 124 of the motel, which overlooks a field.

Agents were waiting as the taxi pulled out of the motel and headed south. Agents pulled the taxi over at about 11 p.m.

“All three women admitted that they were travelling together. Due to their inability to produce documents confirming their claims of citizenship as well as their difficulty in answering basic questions regarding their residences and related information, all three women were transported . . . for further questioning and additional record checks,” the affidavit said.

CS-2 did not have “an immigration history that could be accessed.” One of the women was a confirmed Canadian citizen. The affidavit is silent on the third woman.

Pleadings and charges

Akwesasne resident Ian Tarbell pleaded guilty to “bringing aliens to the United States for commercial advantage and private gain” as part of a plea agreement in connection to the smuggling of the four Poles.

He was released, detained after violating his conditions, and released again at the end of August. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 27.

Benedict, Johnson and Solomon are scheduled for jury trial for Nov 4 in Utica, NY.

Benedict and Johnson both face a two count Grand Jury indictment on conspiracy to bring aliens into the U.S.

Solomon faces one count in the same indictment on conspiracy to bring aliens into the U.S. and one count of transporting aliens.

The indictment is dated Aug. 14.

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@JorgeBarrera

 

Online Producer / Ottawa

Before moving to become the APTN News social media producer, Mark was the executive producer for the news in eastern Canada. Before starting with APTN in 2009, Mark worked at CBC Radio and Television in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.