MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A man federal prosecutors say led a human smuggling organization on the U.S.-Canadian border for five years was ordered held Monday until he goes to trial.
Godofredo Rivas-Melendez, 60, a Canadian citizen who was born in El Salvador, was deported from Canada and taken into custody by U.S. authorities Oct. 1 in Champlain, New York, officials said in court filings. He pleaded not guilty last week in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vermont.
No trial date has been set. His attorney did not return a call seeking comment.
Beginning in as early as 2013 and until August 2018, Rivas-Melendez’s organization charged thousands of dollars to smuggle people into Vermont and New York from Canada, a federal court indictment said.
He “and other conspirators would offer alien smuggling services to people living in Canada from foreign countries, including Central and South America, who wished to enter the United States,” the indictment said.
Rivas-Melendez would house the people seeking to enter the United States illegally at hotels or his home until they were ready to try entering the United States. Members of the organization would then drive their customers from Montreal “to areas very close to the border between Canada and the United States, sometimes in New York but usually in Vermont.”
Members of the organization would guide the people across the border on foot at night, avoiding roads and official ports of entry. Once in the United States, the people would be picked up by others working with the organization and taken to their desired location in the United States.
Rivas-Melendez was arrested in Canada on a U.S. warrant, said Kraig LaPorte, a spokesman for the Vermont office of the U.S. attorney. He would not say how many people the organization is estimated to have smuggled into the United States.
Officials with the U.S. Border Patrol in a 300-mile area that includes upstate New York, Vermont and New Hampshire have for years spoken of organizations that specialized in helping people cross the border illegally.
A Border Patrol agent in Vermont last year described the smuggling as “very well organized.”
It is about a six-hour drive to New York City from Vermont’s border with Canada.
The areas where the illegal crossing activity shifts, agents say.
In the summer of 2018, the focus of illegal crossing was in the Derby Line, Vermont, area. The Border Patrol says that this year, most of the illegal border crossing has shifted west to locations in upstate New York.