A Toronto worker could face jail time in the United States after attempting to smuggle a failed refugee claimant across the border in the trunk of her car.
Donna Pham pleaded guilty this week to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, an offence that carries a maximum sentence of five years behind bars and a $250,000 fine.
But, because Pham has accepted responsibility and has one or fewer prior convictions, her sentence could range between six and 12 months, with a fine of $4,000 to $40,000.
An agreed statement of facts says Pham and a friend drove to the Rainbow Bridge border crossing in Niagara Falls, New York, on Jan. 6.
During the inspection, a border guard found a man in the car’s trunk. The man, was a citizen of Senegal and had twice been refused non-immigrant visas.
His refugee claim in Canada was also denied and he was ordered to leave the country by Jan. 7.
An unidentified co-conspirator in Canada had arranged for the Senegalese man to be smuggled into the U.S.
An affidavit submitted by a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security said border patrol officers found a man under a coat in the trunk. His fingerprints matched a profile in a government database, it said.
The Senegalese man told a customs officer he promised to pay Pham US $100 if he made it across the border.
Pham told officers she had no idea there was someone in her trunk and didn’t know how they got in.
Her friend recalled that they were traveling to the Seneca Casino and had stopped at a gas station to get coffee and then at the Casino Niagara on the Canadian side of the border.
The friend said two women then went to a Starbucks and the duty free store before trying to cross into the U.S.
As a result of her plea, Pham could be barred from entering the U.S. in the future.