(The Havre Herald) Four Mexican nationals are charged with illegally smuggling 15 others into the United States through the Sweetgrass port north of Cut Bank, on the Canadian border.
One of the suspects has already pleaded guilty.
The aliens allegedly paid $4,000 to $4,750 each to the smugglers, who were also in the U.S illegally, to provide the illegal entry.
Alberto Guillen-Gordillo, Omero Banderas-Rodriguez, Samuel Velasco-Trovar and Josue Bermudez-Lopez are charged with illegally smuggling people into the United States and conspiracy to smuggle people into the country. Each charge carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years, a $200,000 fine and three years of supervised release.
Bermudez-Lopez, 26, has already pleaded guilty to illegally transporting aliens for money. The other three denied the charges Dec. 10 in federal court.
The suspects were apprehended after U.S.Border Patrol officers conducted a stakeout at an unnamed Cut Bank hotel that led to the arrests.
In legal papers filed with federal court, Border Patrol officials gave this account of the developments:
On May 1-3, Bermudez-Lopez rented a room at the Cut Bank hotel.
On June 28-30, Bermudez-Lopez once again rented a room. On the third night, he rented three additional rooms.
The hotel employee thought it odd that the people using the first room entered through the front doors while the others came in through a side door where they would not be seen as easily. Also, he said the visitors rarely left the rooms for work or tourist activities as most visitors do.
Banderas-Rodriguez then rented a room at the Cut Bank hotel on Oct. 18-20. However, Rodriguez checked out of the hotel at 8:30 p.m. on Oct, 19, without finishing his stay.
The hotel employee took down a license plate number for the car that Banderas-Rodriguez drove away in.
Border Patrol officials later checked out the registration and traced it back to Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Enterprise told Border Patrol the car had been rented to Alberto Guillen. Officers checked Guillen’s social media. His accounts frequently mentioned the names of several people that appeared to match the suspects the hotel employee had told them about.
Border Patrol officers showed the hotel employee the pictures of the suspects, and they verified that they were the people who had been staying in the hotel.
Border Patrol officers ran the names of the suspects through a database and determined that none of the suspects had entered the United States legally.
On Nov. 16, the hotel employee contacted Border Patrol saying that the Mexican nationals had returned and rented a room. They drove in with two Chevrolet Tahoes and a Chevrolet Suburban.
Border Patrol officers began surveillance of the hotel.
At 8 p.m., the Suburban, with the four suspects, headed north on Montana highways 213 and 214, going into a rural area. An unmarked Border Patrol car followed them.
The Border Patrol car turned around and returned to the hotel.
The Suburban returned to the hotel at about 10 p.m., with three of the four suspects.
That led officers to believe that the fourth suspect was left in rural Glacier County in order to bring back people who had entered the United States illegally.
The next night, officers followed the suspects’ vehicles into a very remote area near the U.S.-Canadian border. Both vehicles came back to the hotel, carrying 19 aliens.
Police detained the aliens and eventually charged the smugglers.
The legal papers do not say how the Mexicans managed to get into Canada.