News/US: 10 indicted in smuggling truck drivers

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Subject: News/US: 10 indicted in smuggling truck drivers
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Sat Oct 16 1999 - 16:09:37 EDT


Not sure this is a case of trafficking but it's pretty amazing!

melanie
_____________

10 indicted in smuggling truck drivers
Theo Francis
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 15, 1999

Ten people, most of them Australians, illegally brought Australian and New
Zealander truck drivers to Arkansas to work for American trucking
companies, a federal grand jury charged Thursday in a 125-count indictment
in Little Rock.

The charges, which include racketeering, money laundering, visa fraud and
alien smuggling, were brought against members of two rings described in the
indictment as operating primarily from Little Rock and near Melbourne,
Australia.

All the counts carry a maximum penalty of 10 to 20 years in jail and
maximum fines of $250,000 to $500,000.

The charges grew out of a year-long investigation by the U.S. Justice
Department, State Department, Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and
Naturalization Service and Border Patrol and by the Australian Federal
Police and Victoria State Police in Australia.

The investigation led to simultaneous raids at 15 locations in the United
States and Australia on March 30, including the Jacksonville home of a man
accused of being a leader of one of the rings.

An Arkansas Democrat-Gazette report on July 4 described the raids and the
legal battles between Peter Ruston, one of those indicted Thursday, and the
federal government over what Ruston called a legitimate training school for
foreign truck drivers.

At the time of the raids, more than 140 foreign truck drivers -- some say
several hundred in all -- were stranded in the United States, unable to
work or, in some cases, get home. The indictment centers on about 20
drivers, most of them New Zealanders.

Since then, many have left or been deported. Others have remained on visas
arranged to allow them to testify for the government. Police say Peter John
Berwick, 39, found dead of gunshot wounds Oct. 5 in Benton, was one of
those witnesses.

An autopsy determined that Berwick's death a suicide.

Thursday's indictment describes two groups of businesses -- in essence
intricate networks of businesses -- designed to recruit truck drivers from
Australia and New Zealand, arrange jobs for them in the United States and
procure visas for them, often fraudulently.

In some cases the visas were improperly applied for, the indictment says.
In others they simply didn't permit employment for their holders. In the
process, the two groups brought in $14.6 million, largely from American
trucking companies, the indictment alleges.

Federal authorities hope to seize $10.9 million of that from one of the two
groups, the Trek Group of Cos., and $3.7 million -- plus property in
Melbourne, Altona Meadows and Buchan, Australia, a 1991 Ferrari 348 Targa,
a 1996 Holden Commodore and a boat with two 175-horsepower outboard motors
-- from the other, the Alewide Group, the indictment says.

In court documents filed before the March 30 raids, federal officials
described Trek's enterprise as a methodical scheme to funnel illegal aliens
into the American trucking industry with fraudulent visas.

The documents named about 20 U.S. trucking companies and more than 50
companies linked to Ruston in the United States and Australia.

Ruston defended himself, arguing that his enterprise was legal because it
technically trained foreigners in over-the-road driving. He scoffed at
allegations that he made millions from his efforts and said the federal
government was harassing him because it disliked lawsuits he had filed over
his own immigration status.

By contrast, Ruston belittled other groups bringing drivers to the United
States, including Alewide. Ruston and several of Alewide's principals had
been business partners but split after a dispute.

The grand jury Thursday indicted:

Ruston, 50, charged with one count each of racketeering and conspiracy to
launder money; 10 counts of visa fraud; 11 counts each of alien smuggling
and alien harboring; and 60 counts of money laundering.

Phillip Ruston of Altona, Australia, Peter Ruston's son and described as
Trek's Australian operations manager, charged with one count each of
racketeering and conspiracy to launder money; 10 counts of visa fraud; 11
counts each of alien smuggling and alien harboring, and 60 counts of money
laundering.

Anthony Kurr of Melbourne, described as Trek's Australian recruiter,
charged with one count of racketeering; five counts of visa fraud; six
counts of alien smuggling, and six counts of alien harboring.

Hoani Harawira of New Zealand, described as Trek's New Zealand recruiter,
charged with one count each of racketeering and conspiracy to launder money
and seven counts each of visa fraud, alien smuggling and alien harboring.

Roger Koch of South Yarra, Australia, described as the Alewide Group's
owner, charged with one count each of racketeering and conspiracy to
launder money, 10 counts each of visa fraud, alien harboring and alien
smuggling, and 55 counts of money laundering.

Ralph Koch of Cottlesbridge, Australia, described as Alewide's payroll
manager, charged with one count each of racketeering and conspiracy to
launder money, 10 counts each of visa fraud, alien smuggling and alien
harboring, and 34 counts of money laundering;

Graham Melbourne of Altona Meadows, Australia, described as Alewide's
Australian recruitment officer and manager, charged with one count each of
racketeering and conspiracy to launder money, and 10 counts each of visa
fraud, alien smuggling and alien harboring.

Helen Melbourne of Altona Meadows, described as Alewide's Australian office
manager, charged with one count each of racketeering and conspiracy to
launder money, 10 counts each of visa fraud, alien smuggling and alien
harboring, and 57 counts of money laundering.

Lyndel Evans of Sherwood, described as Alewide's U.S. operations manager,
charged with one count each of racketeering and conspiracy to launder
money, 10 counts each of visa fraud, alien smuggling and alien harboring,
and 57 counts of money laundering;

Bob Cullinane of New Zealand, described as Alewide's New Zealand recruiter,
charged with one count of racketeering and eight counts each of visa fraud,
alien harboring and alien smuggling.

Of those indicted, only Evans and Peter Ruston are believed to be in the
United States, U.S. Attorney Paula Casey said. Authorities plan to
extradite the others from Australia and New Zealand, but no charges are
expected overseas, she said.

None of those indicted could be reached for comment late Thursday afternoon.

Melanie Orhant
morhant@igc.org
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