Brazilian Citizen Who Ran Smuggling Organization Pleads Guilty To Human Trafficking

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BUFFALO, N.Y. – U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced today that Tiago Mello-Lima, 34, a Brazilian citizen living in Canada, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy to bringing aliens to the United States for commercial advantage or private financial gain. The charge carries a mandatory minimum penalty of three years in prison, a maximum of 10 years, and a $250,000 fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Kruly, who handled the case, stated that the defendant managed and supervised a smuggling organization. Specifically, on April 28, 2019, while in Ontario, Canada, Mello-Lima and two other individuals, including co-defendant Renan Portela Bandeira De Souza, launched a boat, containing four alien passengers who were not citizens or nationals of the United States, into the Niagara River. In prior negotiations with two of the aliens, the defendant agreed to charge each alien approximately $6,000 to bring them to the United States. Mello-Lima drove the boat from Canada to the United States landing on Grand Island, NY. The four aliens disembarked, and the defendant returned the boat to a dock in Canada. Mello-Lima planned the April 28, 2019, smuggling and arranged for a U.S.-based individual to pick up the aliens on Grand Island and drive them to their final destinations in the United States. Between March 17 and July 2019, Mello-Lima smuggled or aided and abetted the smuggling of six more aliens into the United States.

Co-defendant Renan Portela Bandeira De Souza also pleaded guilty to bringing aliens to the United States for commercial advantage or private financial gain and was sentenced to serve 21 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.

The plea is the result of an investigation by U.S. Border Patrol Buffalo Sector, under the direction of Acting Chief Patrol Agent Andrew Scharnweber, and Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Kevin Kelly.


Sentencing for Mello-Lima will be scheduled at a later date.

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