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Two Georgia men charged with conspiracy to smuggle humans in northeast North Dakota

Both men will appear in court for detention hearings on Monday, Nov. 28.

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GRAND FORKS – Two men from Georgia have been charged with conspiracy to smuggle humans across the U.S.-Canada border.

According to an affidavit in the case, the Pembina County Sheriff’s Office received a call for motorist assistance at 3:34 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17. The caller was said to be Ernesto Falcon Jr., who reported his vehicle was stuck near the intersection of County Road 55 and 138th Avenue.

Falcon reported he and his family were walking on County Road 55. The affidavit says the weather was “rapidly deteriorating” with low temperatures, snow and wind.

Deputy Patrick Swift responded to the call and found nine people near the intersection. They were all dressed in “heavy winter clothing and appeared to be prepared for the weather conditions,” the affidavit says. Falcon asked Swift to drive him and his family to a hotel.

Swift suspected a possible smuggling attempt and transported everyone to the sheriff’s office in Cavalier, North Dakota.

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A Border Patrol agent contacted Swift after receiving an alert about the stranded motorist call. The Border Patrol agent collected biographical information and conducted records checks.

The nine stranded people were identified, two of whom were Falcon and Rodolfo Arzola-Carrillo. Two were children, ages 4 and 9.

According to the affidavit, the other adults admitted to being in the U.S. illegally. Two said they crossed into the U.S. from Canada with help from Falcon and Arzola-Carrillo, who crossed into Canada to bring them into the U.S.

Falcon was interviewed, and he told authorities he lives in Tifton, Georgia. He works in Georgia and met Arzola-Carrillo through his employment. The men had known each other for approximately two years. Falcon said Arzola-Carrillo first approached him last year to ask if he’d be interested in “doing some extra work” smuggling groups into the U.S.

According to Falcon, he told Arzola-Carrillo he wasn’t interested, but had been facing financial difficulties recently. Arzola-Carrillo asked Falcon again if he was interested and Falcon agreed. Falcon said he usually gets paid between $500 and $1,000 per person that he helps transport across the border.

Falcon said Arzola-Carrillo purchased a Chevrolet Tahoe and registered it in Falcon’s name, because Arzola-Carrillo is not a citizen and cannot get a license. According to Falcon’s statement, this is why Arzola-Carrillo sought him out for help with the job.

Falcon said he and Arzola-Carrillo had already picked up four different groups of border-crossers in North Dakota — two in September and two in October. After picking them up, they would drive south on Interstate 29, then east on Interstate 94. Arzola-Carrillo would make arrangements with family members of the groups they’d transport and meet somewhere along the interstate. Falcon said Arzola-Carrillo made all the arrangements regarding picking up groups, crossing the border, meeting locations and payments.

Arzola-Carrillo and Falcon left Tifton, Georgia on Nov. 14, arriving in Cavalier, North Dakota, between 12 and 1 a.m. on Nov. 16. According to the affidavit, Falcon hit a deer with the Tahoe and the vehicle was towed into Cavalier. The two men checked into the Cedar Inn.

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The men were unable to get the vehicle repaired, so Arzola-Carrillo bought a black van for $1,000 from someone. Falcon said he didn’t know any other details about the purchase.

Between 12:30 and 1 a.m. on Nov. 17, Falcon and Arzola-Carrillo left the Cedar Inn to pick up their current group. Falcon said Arzola-Carrillo instructed him on where to go, but when they got closer to the border the van got stuck in the snow.

The two men walked north for approximately 30 to 40 minutes before meeting the group walking south. Falcon said he was unsure if he entered Canada with Arzola-Carrillo at the time. He and Arzola-Carrillo walked south with the group before deciding to call the sheriff’s office because of the cold weather.

When Arzola-Carrillo was interviewed, he said he had been contacted by someone in Michoacan, Mexico, who asked if he could help transport their family into the U.S.

Arzola-Carrillo said the person was in the group he was transporting, but he couldn’t identify who it was. Arzola-Carrillo said he and Falcon left the hotel that morning in the van. He said he was never paid, but the group was going to pay $500 for gas once they got to their destination in Georgia.

Both men had their initial appearances in court on Friday, Nov. 18.

Falcon’s attorney is Matthew Stephen Dearth and Arzola-Carrillo’s is Rhiannon Gorham.

Falcon and Arzola-Carrillo will next appear in court on Nov. 28 for their detention hearings.

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Sav Kelly joined the Grand Forks Herald in August 2022.

Kelly covers public safety, including local crime and the courts system.

Readers can reach Kelly at (701) 780-1102 or skelly@gfherald.com.
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