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Chinese smuggling ring said to have used Indian reservation

Smuggling ring
Smuggling ring
CNN's Pierre Thomas reports
Windows Media 28K 56K

Bust of alleged international ring nets 35 arrests

December 14, 1998
Web posted at: 2:32 p.m. EDT (1832 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- American and Canadian authorities say they have broken up a ring that allegedly smuggled more than 3,600 illegal Chinese immigrants into the United States over the past two years through an Indian reservation along the Canadian border in upstate New York.

The sophisticated global operation is being called the largest human smuggling ring ever to penetrate the U.S. northern border. Each alien paid as much as $47,000 for transportation from China to New York City.

Thirty-five suspects in the operation have been arrested in Ontario, upstate New York, New York City, Philadelphia and New Mexico. They will be transported to Albany, New York, to face prosecution.

"There will be no safe haven for those who seek to profit in human misery," said Attorney General Janet Reno.

Authorities say the Chinese ringleaders of the operation were assisted by at least 15 U.S. and Canadian citizens, eight of whom are Native Americans. The aliens were taken across the St. Lawrence River from Ontario through the St. Regis Mohawk reservation, then transported to New York City in vans.

The vast reservation land along the river was lightly patrolled and vulnerable to smugglers, authorities admitted.

Janet Reno (left), Doris Meissner (middle) and Thomas Maroney announce the smuggling bust  

"Compared with the Southwest border, this area frankly is protected by a very thin line of law enforcement," said U.S. Attorney Thomas Maroney of Buffalo.

As many as 150 illegal immigrants were allegedly being brought into the United States each month. The ring took in about $170 million over the past two years, Reno said.

Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner said there is no evidence tribal government leaders on the St. Regis reservation knew about the smuggling operation. Tribal police participated in the investigation.

Meissner said immigration officials have not found similar rings operating through other border reservations.

Authorities allege the aliens were flown from mainland China's Fujian province to Hong Kong or Taiwan and then to Canada via Germany, France, Morocco, Brazil, Cuba or Greenland. Smugglers allegedly took the Chinese to safe houses in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal before transporting them across the border in small boats carrying six or eight immigrants at a time.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were tipped to the operation, triggering a yearlong joint investigation by U.S. and Canadian authorities that involved extensive use of wiretaps.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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