Federal prosecutors say a Canadian man was recently brought to the United States to face charges related to allegations of a cross-border gun smuggling plot which exploited a unique public library at the unwitting center of the scheme.
The office of the U.S. Attorney for Vermont announced Alexis Vlachos, 40, of Montreal, was extradited to face charges including exporting firearms from the United States into Canada without a permit.
The plot allegedly exploited the Haskell Free Library, which is famous for straddling the international border of Stanstead, Quebec and Derby Line, Vermont, and serves readers from both countries.
Investigators say in 2010 and 2011, Vlachos schemed to buy weapons in the States, and have a friend enter the public library through Vermont, dropping a knapsack full of handguns in the landmark's bathroom.
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Then, Vlachos would stroll in from the library's Canadian side and pick up the bag, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, bringing those firearms back into Quebec without a permit and skirting the formal border checkpoints.
Vlachos pleaded not guilty earlier this month and is being held pending trial.
“Criminals do what criminals do,” said Mike Colerick, a traveler from Plymouth, Massachusetts who was visiting Derby Line Monday. “If there's money to be made illegally, they're going to figure out a way of doing it — no matter what.”
“If it wasn't the library, it would be something else,” speculated another traveler to Derby Line, Daniela Browning of Ottawa, Canada. “They would hide them in the flower pots!”
The office of the U.S. Attorney for Vermont emphasized that the charges against Vlachos were merely accusations, noting he is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
The plot allegedly planned an unpermitted exportation of 100 guns to Canada, according to investigators.
Prosecutors said the suspect had two accomplices in on this scheme with him. One of those people, Annette Wexler, pled guilty to lying to licensed gun dealers and unlawful exportation, the office of the U.S. Attorney for Vermont said.
Wexler is scheduled to be sentenced next month, the office added.
Ten years ago, at a time when federal authorities were wrestling with how to crack down on cross-border smuggling risks by speaking with the community about closing down roads considered “porous,” necn checked out the line between the U.S. and Canada.
It runs right through the library. One volunteer told former necn reporter Anya Huneke that the dividing line somehow managed to unite communities on either side of the border.
“We’re very proud of the Haskell Library,” the volunteer, named Peter, said in June 2007. “It’s the best example of us being able to work together.”
Monday, several people told us the Haskell remains one of the proudest gems of this community, even despite this very rare gun smuggling case.
“I think if we live in fear we have to close up every little potential loophole, that would probably change our way of life a little bit and I don't think it's worth it,” said traveler Don Browning of Ottawa, Canada.