People smuggling attempt gets stuck in mud

Published on Thu, Aug 22, 2002 by Meg Olson

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People smuggling attempt
gets stuck in mud

By Meg Olson

Last week two British Columbia men were charged with smuggling aliens into the United States after they were caught leading 19 Koreans across the Semiahmoo Bay mudflats.

In the complaint filed August 11 in federal district court in Seattle, Cody Nelson, 21, and Michael Newburg, 44, of B.C. are charged with one count of bringing in aliens for financial gain and two counts of unlawful entry for two trips across the bay shuttling the aliens to a waiting van in Blaine Marine Park.

In his statement to the court U.S. Border Patrol special agent Richard Vreeke stated communications specialists monitoring the new cameras set along the border were the first to spot the smugglers. Using the cameras’ infrared night-vision capability he was able to pick up ten people walking along the water’s edge at low tide, heading for the old sewer tank, just after 2 a.m. on August 11.

Shortly thereafter a border patrol agent on foot in the park saw a van leave the area near the tank and thought he saw several people crouching down in the back. He radioed to another agent parked at the foot of Marine Drive, who followed the van onto I-5 and called in Blaine police for backup. They stopped the van and found Newburg at the wheel and nine Korean nationals in the back.

Communications specialists kept monitoring the tideflats and saw the guide return north again after dropping the first group off near the sewer tank. On the north shore the guide, later identified as Nelson, met up with another group of nine and immediately led them by the same route across the tideflats. Border patrol agents using night vision watched the group cross the border and head for the same pick-up spot, this time slowed by an advancing tide. Once there, they found no van to pick them up. After a cellphone call the guide hurried the group back north but was intercepted by agents as they backtracked across the tideflats. Besides Nelson and Newburg, three adult men and 13 women, all Korean nationals, and three children from six to nine years old were taken into custody.

Once in custody the Koreans, who now face deportation, all told a similar story. They came to Canada as visitors and made arrangements to be smuggled into the U.S. with an unidentified Korean man. One man, Beom Taek Sim, said he had paid a deposit of $5,000 for himself and his family, but the charges mounted from there. He told agents he had been charged $300 per family member to be picked up and taken to a rooming house where they had to pay $50 each per day for room and board. They then paid $80 each to be taken to the beach and were told to pay the driver on the U.S. side whatever he asked. Finally, Beom Tak Sim expected to have to pay $3,500 per family member when they got to their final destination, New York.

Nelson agreed to speak with agents and told them a man named Dylan recruited him with promises of easy money bringing aliens illegally across the border. This was only his third attempt. He had been successful on the first try bringing in six Korean nationals and had failed to smuggle seven on his second try. He said he was paid $100 for each person guided.
Nelson and Newburg could face fines and three to ten years in jail.

John Bryant of the border patrol anti-smuggling division said they estimate up to 300 aliens, mostly Koreans, are crossing the border illegally each year between the water and the mountains. They have investigated and laid charges in seven major smuggling operations this year. Bryant said most aliens being smuggled across local borders are from Korea, but the people smuggling them are increasingly local. “We think there are five or six big brokers in Vancouver,” he said, who were likely Korean men.

They recruited men like Newburg and Nelson but kept them distant from the core of the operation to minimize risk if they’re caught. “They knew very little,” he said. His agency will continue to work with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to stop local alien smuggling before it gets to the border. ..

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