Monday, May 22, 2006

Irish nationals smuggled into U.S. from Canada via pub

A "robust Irish smuggling ring" operating out of a popular pub in Buffalo has been smuggling dozens of Irish citizens from Canada into the United States for about three years, U.S. court documents show.

The proprietor, bartenders and customers of the pub, which is less than five kilometres from the Peace Bridge border crossing at Fort Erie, Ont., have shuttled across the border as many as 50 Irish nationals, many of whom had previously been deported or denied entry into the United States.

Details of the network, which relied on weaknesses in Canada-U.S. border security, are contained in several recent court files in the United States, including indictments unsealed yesterday against six Irish nationals, two of whom are U.S. citizens.

The focus of the smuggling ring was a popular tavern, Campbell's Pub, founded in 1972 by Hugh B. Campbell, an immigrant from County Mayo on the western coast of Ireland. After he died in 2003, his daughter, Bridget Campbell, took over.

Campbell has admitted her leadership role in the people-smuggling ring.

"Campbell made the preliminary arrangements through third-party 'arrangers' for the Irish aliens to travel to Canada and to a designated point in Fort Erie," says a plea agreement filed in court in Buffalo.

"Campbell got general descriptions of the persons to be brought into the United States. From acquaintances, Campbell obtained valid [New York] driver's licences resembling the physical descriptions of the Irish aliens," the agreement says.

She then paid some staff members at her pub and regular patrons to drive to Canada and meet the Irish nationals. Typically, two cars were sent -- one to carry the migrant and the other to follow with their luggage.

Once they met up with the migrants in Fort Erie, the conspirators coached them on how to answer questions at the border. Sometimes they took a hat, a pair of eyeglasses or a jacket if it would help in the subterfuge, court documents from several cases show.

They then drove them across the Peace Bridge to Buffalo.

Once across the border, each migrant paid US$1,200 to the driver, who would keep $300, give $100 to the driver carrying the luggage and $50 to anyone serving as a passenger who came to help allay suspicion at the border.

The rest, normally $US750 to US$800, was left at the pub for Campbell.

After paying, the migrants were taken to the bus station or airport to continue on to New York City, Boston or Philadelphia, where many were given jobs in Irish pubs and in construction.

From December, 2003, Campbell arranged to bring between 30 and 50 Irish aliens across the border.

The ring first stumbled on Aug. 18, 2004, when two illegal aliens were stopped at the border. One was allegedly being driven by Shannon Lee, a bartender at the pub. The Irish national was returned to Canada.

Investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents traced the attempt to a larger scheme involving the pub, said Terrance Flynn, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York.

Campbell recently pleaded guilty to alien smuggling and agreed to forfeit US$36,000 and two properties in Depew, N.Y., to the U.S. government and to co-operate with the investigation, according to the agreement. She has not yet been sentenced.

A bar patron who acted as a driver has also pleaded guilty. Mr. Lee, the bartender, is still before the courts.

U.S. government officials would not comment on whether there was any connection to the Irish Republican Army or other organizations involved in the long dispute in Ireland.

A staff member answering the phone at Campbell's Pub declined to discuss the incidents.

"These cases appear to have shut down what was an active smuggling pipeline from Canada," Mr. Flynn said.

Left unindicted, however, was anyone involved in the scheme in Canada. The investigation does not seem to have extended across the border.

Several officers and spokespeople for the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency said they had no knowledge of the ring or the arrests.

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