U.S. border patrol officers claim to have documented multiple instances where they believe Nigerian nationals were smuggled into Canada from North Dakota.
The apparent asylum seekers paid $2,000 US each and filed refugee claims after reaching Canada, according to affidavits obtained by CBC News.
The RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency announced human smuggling charges against 43-year-old Michelle Omoruyi of Regina on Wednesday.
- Canadian couple arrested as part of human smuggling investigation
- Regina woman charged with human smuggling after 9 asylum seekers intercepted at border
CBC News has learned her husband, Victor Omoruyi, is one of the three other people arrested by American authorities.
They are being detained in the Grand Forks Correctional Centre.
Sources say charges are expected to be laid against Omoruyi, Tosin Johnson (also known as Tosin Cecilia Freeman-Osho) and Success Okundia (aka Success Okundia-Julius).
Details on arrests
According to court documents, Omoruyi had entered into the U.S. at the Portal port of entry on April 14 at 1:30 p.m. He told border officers he was going to visit friends and shop in Minot, N.D., and that he planned to return to Canada the next day.
An officer in an unmarked vehicle followed Omoruyi's white 2012 Ford Explorer to Minot, where another agent joined the surveillance.
Omoruyi drove to a hotel and returned to his vehicle with another man.
"As they drove around several store fronts, it appeared as if they were looking for something or someone," the affidavit reads.
After Omoruyi returned to the hotel, officers observed five adults and four children joining him in the vehicle.
At 7:30 p.m., they left Minot and drove toward the Northgate port of entry, where the Burke County Sheriff's office and RCMP Integrated Border Enforcement Team (IBET) took over the surveillance.
Photo images captured Omoruyi's vehicle about half a kilometre from the U.S./Canada border at about 9:30 p.m.
The area primarily consists of open farm fields with no occupied dwellings nearby.
"Omoruyi was clearly seen stopping his vehicle, exiting from the driver's seat, and opening the rear doors," the affidavit says.
"All other occupants then exited the vehicle. Omoruyi appeared to help the children exit the vehicle. Once all of the passengers were out of the vehicle, Omoruyi got back in the driver's seat and departed the same way he arrived."
Officers say the nine passengers walked north to Canada through the open field, to a vehicle waiting to pick them up.
They were intercepted by police.
Meanwhile, officers watched as Omoruyi met up with a white sedan. Shortly after, police stopped Omoruyi's vehicle, which at that point had three people in it.
Omoruyi provided a Saskatchewan driver's licence and said he was headed to Regina. He told officers the passengers were his friends and he had known them for five or six months.
Police say the front seat passenger was Okundia, who showed them a photo card from Ontario but then said he was from Africa and that he'd been dropped off in a field.
When questioned, "Okundia began acting extremely nervous and began to stutter his words. He was also visibly shaking," the affidavit reads.
Records checks at the border show no legal entry into the U.S. for Okundia.
The back-seat passenger, later identified as Johnson, had an Ontario driver's licence. She initially told officers she was from Canada and had been in the U.S. for one year.
However, her story broke down under questioning. Record checks found her last legal attempt to enter the U.S. was denied.
One of the officers noticed the passengers' shoes had fresh mud on them. Neither had immigration documents that would allow them to be in the U.S. legally.
The officers concluded a smuggling event had occurred and detained the three people.
In interviews later, Johnson admitted she started her evening in Regina and was given a ride to the border by a white female with short hair. She said she and Okundia were picked up by Victor Omoruyi.
During his interview, Omoruyi denied driving anyone from Minot. He asked to speak to his wife, which is when law enforcement learned she was the woman in Canada arrested for smuggling in the nine Nigerians.
Okundia, a Nigerian citizen, refused to answer questions without a lawyer present.
None of these allegations have been proven in court.
More migrants coming
According to retired Canada Border Services Agency investigator Brent Lafave, this latest case is likely the tip of the iceberg.
Lafave worked for the agency for 32 years, and believes more and more people will be trying to cross the border illegally.
"Canada seems to have given the green light to people, that they're welcome to come north," he said. "I think we're going to have a lot of people at our doorstep."
As a result, Lafave said it's essential that the federal government start putting more resources into the border, and making firm decisions on who will be accepted into the country.
He said crossing the Canadian border illegally involves well-established networks of operatives that will only get stronger the more lucrative the practice becomes for human smugglers.
"People aren't just showing up at the border," he said. "If they don't have a vehicle, they just have a few sets of clothes, you have to wonder how they got to the border. What system or network brought them there?"
A previous version of this story said that Michelle Omoruyi had been charged with human trafficking. In fact, she was charged with human smuggling.Apr 21, 2017 9:35 AM CT