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Guilty plea taken in alien smuggling
News Staff Reporter

A college student from Canada pleaded guilty Tuesday to piloting a rubber raft packed with illegal aliens across the Niagara River to Grand Island last June.

Under his felony plea deal with the U.S. government, Nathanael Richardson, 20, of Bellevue, Ont., must cooperate in an ongoing investigation into an alien-smuggling operation, authorities said.

Richardson was charged under an alien-smuggling law that could have resulted in a much longer prison term, but under the terms of his plea deal and federal sentencing guidelines, he is expected to serve about 18 months.

U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny scheduled sentencing for April 29.

Richardson was arrested and eight illegal aliens were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents early on the morning of June 5.

Agents said the crossing took place in a dangerous area of the river where smugglers frequently operate.

"(Richardson) admitted that he piloted the raft, which was loaded down with too many people for a safe crossing," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory L. Brown. "An agent conducting routine surveillance spotted the raft, and when (Richardson) crawled up the riverbank, agents were waiting for him."

Border Patrol officials said the arrest was made along West River Parkway, near Whitehaven Road. The aliens, from India and Pakistan, were removed for deportation proceedings. Authorities said two children were in the group.

Brown noted that the raft was equipped with a small engine but no lights and that it was seen in an area where river currents are swift and dangerous.

Defense attorney Michael J. Stachowski told Skretny that Richardson has received telephone threats because of his cooperation in the investigation. Authorities believe organized smuggling rings charge the aliens thousands of dollars to smuggle them from foreign countries, through Canada, into the United States.