(Screen grab of search warrant affidavit to examining cell phones seized during Aug. 11 arrest of 3 Chinese nationals)
APTN National News
U.S. federal authorities are trying to dismantle a smuggling network moving Chinese nationals from Toronto to New York City through the Mohawk community of Akwesasne which straddles the Canada-U.S. border, court documents show.
The smuggling network advertises its services by publishing ads in Chinese-language newspapers sold in the Toronto-area. The ads include the phone number of a broker who sets up the smuggling run, according to court documents filed with the U.S. Federal Court Northern New York District.
Akwesasne, a Mohawk community straddling the Ontario, Quebec and New York State borders, is often used by networks trying to smuggle people from Canada into the U.S.
The geographic location of Akwesasne, with a portion of the St. Lawrence River running through it, makes it an attractive area to attempt runs across the border. It is possible to take a boat from the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River to the southern shore of the St. Regis Village or Snye areas of Akwesasne and then walk across unguarded portions of the international boundary into the U.S.
U.S. authorities have recently turned their attention to a network smuggling Chinese nationals from Toronto to New York City.
The U.S. Border Patrol filed three search warrant affidavits last Thursday with the Federal Court to conduct forensic examinations of cell phones and a GPS device seized during the Aug. 11 arrest of three Chinese nationals who were on U.S. soil illegally. The three individuals were in a 2013 white Honda Pilot SUV with New York State plates that was stopped by the U.S. Border Patrol shortly after it left the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino.
Court documents show U.S. Border Patrol investigators are trying to dismantle the Chinese smuggling network through leads unearthed by examining the seized cells phones and GPS device.
Investigators are currently focusing on a Chinese national named Wanxiang Chen, the driver of the SUV, who admitted to authorities he had successfully transported seven people in three previous trips from Akwesasne to New York City, according to court documents.
Chen, who lives between the Brooklyn and Queens boroughs of the city, was also found by authorities to be residing in the U.S. illegally.
A U.S. Federal Court judge has ordered Chen’s two passengers, Lili Cai and Kang Shen Shi, to appear as material witnesses against Chen during trial.
Cai and Shi’s immigration status in Canada remains unclear.
U.S. Border Patrol investigators turned their sights on Chen after obtaining information following a raid of a home in Akwesasne in July and from the cooperation of an individual facing alien smuggling charges. Investigators were tipped off to a smuggling operation involving Chinese nationals set for July 27. This eventually led them to Chen’s Honda SUV, according to court documents.
When Chen returned on Aug. 11, Border Patrol agents were ready.
Court documents reviewed by APTN formed a partial snapshot of how the smuggling operation worked and it began with the newspaper ad.
Cai told investigators that she phoned the number in the newspaper ad. The man who answered the phone set up the operation and arranged transport from the Toronto area to a marina on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. The trip would cost Cai $8,000.
Cai told investigators she was transported across the river, but the documents provided no details on how she ended up at the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino, which sits on the U.S. side of the community, where she was eventually picked-up by Chen.
Previous human smuggling cases, however, revealed that smuggled individuals are usually hidden in a home in the community after they are taken by boat across the river. They are then spirited to a spot on the outskirts of the reserve for the final leg of the trip to New York City or other points. In one case last year, an Akwesasne resident bought bus tickets for two Chinese nationals for the trip to New York City.
After Cai phoned the number in the newspaper, a man from a “travel agency” in New York City contacted Chen to travel to the casino for the pick-up. It would be his fourth trip. Chen told authorities he was paid $900 cash for each trip by a man who handed the money over on a street corner in the city.
This time, however, Border Patrol agents were watching as he drove his SUV into the parking lot of the casino and through the valet parking area near the entrance to pick up Cai and Shi. The SUV left the casino at 12:56 p.m. It was tracked and pulled-over at 1:06 p.m. on State Route 37 as Chen and his occupants travelled through Fort Covington, NY.
Chen, who is in custody, is scheduled for trial which is scheduled to begin Nov. 9 in Syracuse, NY.
None of the allegations contained in the court documents have been proven in court.