A man from Honduras accused of spearheading an operation to smuggle people into the U.S. at the border of North Dakota and Canada pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court.
Darwin Cantarero-Sanchez allegedly helped eight immigrants illegally cross the border near Sherwood, in northwestern North Dakota, in April. He arranged transportation for the group from Montreal, charging one person $2,000 and another $1,500, according to prosecutors.
Cantarero-Sanchez pleaded guilty in Bismarck to two charges, conspiracy to transport illegal aliens and improper entry by an alien. He faces up to 16 years in prison when sentenced July 30.
"North Dakota, as a border state, is not immune from the threat posed by smugglers who would illegally traffic drugs, money, weapons, and even human beings into the United States," U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon said in a statement, adding that his office and U.S. Border Patrol are committed to keeping the Canadian border safe.
Neil Fulton, who heads the federal public defender's office for North Dakota and South Dakota, didn't comment on details of the case but said Cantarero-Sanchez's attorneys would now turn their focus "to giving the judge information necessary to fashion an appropriate sentence."
Witnesses said Cantarero-Sanchez and another man took turns driving a group of five people from Montreal to Carnduff, Saskatchewan, where they checked into a hotel. A U.S. Border Patrol agent apprehended the suspects on April 6, while they were walking along a highway near Sherwood about 1:30 a.m.
The investigation led agents to a residence in Minot, where others were taken into custody on allegations that they crossed the border illegally. Border Patrol agents detained a total of 11 people in the case, including three who have been charged with illegal entry. Two of those individuals also are from Honduras, while the third is from Turkey, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
Austin Skero II, chief Border Patrol agent for the Grand Forks sector, said the case is the result of cooperation among federal, local and Canadian law enforcement authorities.
"The men and women of U.S. Customs and Border Protection are hard at work every day keeping our shared border with Canada safe and secure," Skero said in a statement.