Footprints in the snow lead to border arrests

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smuggled across the border from Canada to the United States, and two men who have been charged with attempting to smuggle them.

Irvin Munoz-Diaz, a 23-year-old Mexican citizen and Canadian resident, and Candido Emanuel Noriega-Quezada, 20, a Guatemalan citizen living in Rhode Island, appeared in U.S. District Court in Burlington Monday. They were charged with conspiring to smuggle and transport “five illegal aliens into and within the United States,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Swanton Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol said.

The agents, stationed at the Beecher Falls Border Patrol station, acted on a tip of “a group of persons” entering the U.S. near a remote border section known as Pee Wee’s fence in the town of Canaan in the northeastern corner of Essex County, the criminal complaint says.

They noticed footprints in the snow, coming from the direction of Canada, and followed them to where the Romanians and Munoz-Diaz were in hiding.

About a half hour later, other agents encountered Noriega-Quezada driving a car with Rhode Island license plates, also near Pee Wee’s fence. The complaint says agents determined that Noriega-Quezada had been in cellphone contact with Munoz-Diaz. Noreiga-Quezada said he had been recruited to meet up with Munoz-Diaz and transport the Romanians back to Rhode Island, for which he was to be paid $1,000, the criminal complaint says.

Munoz-Diaz told agents he had been recruited in Montreal to drive the Romanians across the border.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy released Noriega-Quezada on bail, but ordered Munoz-Diaz detained pending further proceedings Wednesday. Prosecutors asked the court to detain three of the Romanian citizens as witnesses.

Hundreds of people are apprehended by border agents while trying to cross the sparsely populated and often heavily wooded northern border into the U.S.

The border patrol’s Swanton station is responsible for policing Vermont’s border with Canada as well as the northern borders of New Hampshire and northeastern New York State.

Canaan, where the most recent arrests were made, is a town of less than 1,000 at the confluence of Hall’s Stream and the Connecticut River, where Vermont, New Hampshire and the province of Quebec meet.

Last November, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended two Mexican nationals, a husband and wife, shortly after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had reported seeing two persons carrying backpacks crossing the border from Quebec into Vermont, near Derby Line.

In October the Border Patrol apprehended 15 migrants from Guatemala and Mexico, also near Derby Line. A 25-year-old Honduran was charged with “transporting illegal aliens within the United States.” A person convicted of the charges could face five years in prison and fines of as much as $250,000.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office recently announced the extradition of a Canadian man to Vermont to face federal charges of smuggling 100 handguns into Quebec using a public library that straddles the international border.

Alexis Vlachos, 40, of Montreal had been indicted by a grand jury in 2015. He faces charges of obtaining 100 handguns with intent to take them into Canada. The guns were purchased by others from dealers in Florida, placed in a backpack and hidden in the bathroom of the Haskell Free Library, in Derby Line.

Vlachos took the backpack from the bathroom, the charges say, left the library through the front entrance, which is in Vermont, then walked across the border into Canada, without passing through an official port of entry. Vlachos pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to court records. He remains detained pending a trial.

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