Canadian Man Pleads Guilty in Human Smuggling Case on Border

Godofredo Rivas-Melendez, 61, entered the plea Friday in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vermont


A Montreal man has pleaded guilty to a federal charge that he led an organization that smuggled people into the U.S. from Canada along the Vermont and New York borders, court records show.

Godofredo Rivas-Melendez, 61, entered the plea Friday in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vermont.

In a plea agreement filed before Friday's hearing, Rivas-Melendez and prosecutors agreed upon a sentence of 50 months in prison, although he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

Rivas-Melendez, a Canadian citizen who was born in El Salvador, was extradited to the U.S. from Canada last October.

Rivas-Melendez pleaded guilty to a single count of an indictment that said he would charge thousands of dollars for human smuggling services.

His attorney declined comment Monday.

The indictment said that members of his organization would drive people seeking to enter the U.S. illegally to locations along the border, mostly in Vermont but sometimes New York.

The people would be guided across the border at night. Once in the U.S., they would be delivered to locations further inside the country.

Rivas-Melendez pleaded guilty to one count of an indictment filed in December 2015. A later indictment filed in December 2018 said the Rivas organization operated from 2013 until 2018.

The court records say Rivas pleaded guilty to the charge in the 2015 indictment because that was the document used to seek his extradition from Canada.

Prosecutors have not said how many people were estimated to have been brought into the U.S. by the organization.

Sentencing is currently scheduled for December.

Officials with the U.S. Border Patrol's Swanton Sector, a 300-mile (483-kilometer) stretch of border that includes upstate New York, Vermont and New Hampshire, have spoken for years of the existence of organizations that specialize in helping people cross the border illegally.

Statistics show that the Swanton sector sees more illegal border-crossing than any other sector along the U.S.-Canadian border.

Border Patrol agents attribute the area's popularity with illegal border crossers to the area's proximity to Toronto and Montreal and the U.S. East Coast.

The pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus appears to have slowed the illegal crossings.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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