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Associated Press , Published November 23 2013

New indictment filed in probe of people smuggling from Canada to ND

FARGO – An investigation into people smuggling from Canada that began last spring when federal authorities thwarted an illegal entry in a remote part of northwestern North Dakota has resulted in another indictment, this time by Canadian authorities, authorities said Friday.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police officials said Friday they have charged Jose Maria Gonzales-Vasquez with conspiring along with Darwin Cantarero-Sanchez to help eight people illegally cross the border near Sherwood in April.

Cantarero-Sanchez, who is from Honduras, pleaded guilty in federal court in May to conspiracy and to improper entry. He was sentenced to a year in prison.

Gonzales-Vasquez, who is originally from El Salvador, remains at large, said Cpl. Chris Wilson, spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Gonzales-Vasquez faces up to three years in jail.

Canadian police said the “smuggler for hire” operation was based out of Montreal. Gonzales-Vasquez “facilitated and assisted” with the smuggling of five adults and three children into North Dakota, police said.

Timothy Purdon, U.S. attorney from North Dakota, said the case shows that organized groups are working to sneak people into the U.S. from Canada.

“We are working together with our Canadian partners to stop that,” Purdon said. “We want to make sure our northern border remains open for business but closed for crime.”

Federal authorities in North Dakota said Cantarero-Sanchez, 26, and an unidentified man took turns driving the group from Montreal to Carnduff, Sask., where they checked into a hotel. A U.S. Border Patrol agent apprehended the suspects April 6, while they were walking along a highway near Sherwood about 1:30 a.m.

One person paid $2,000 and another $1,500 for the trip to the U.S., investigators said.

The investigation led agents to a residence in Minot, where others were taken into custody on allegations they crossed the border illegally. Border Patrol agents detained a total of 11 people.