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Trail of receipts chronicled human smuggling route: witness

The last was a receipt for a night at the Sault, Mich. Days Inn, booked just before the group returned to Canada
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The International Bridge is pictured in this file photo
When Tamba Gbamanja was detained at the International Bridge in 2017 he had a pocketful of receipts chronicling a 12-hour, return trip between Sault Ste. Marie and Ann Arbor, Mich., a judge heard Thursday.

Canada Border Services officer Timothy Hache testified that he found the receipts and a rolled-up wad of approximately $2,000 in American currency when he searched the Toronto area man.

He conducted the search at 1 a.m.on April 16, after the accused had been detained for smuggling, cautioned and given his rights, the 10-year officer told Ontario Court Justice John Condon.

Gbamanja, 31, has pleaded not guilty to two human smuggling related offences under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The 10 time-stamped receipts indicated the accused had crossed the bridge into the States at 9:06 a.m. on April 15, then stopped at an I-75 gas station five minutes later, Hache said.

A toll receipt showed he crossed the Mackinac Bridge at 10:14 a.m., was at a Meijer store in Bay City at 12:32 p.m. and an Ann Arbor Shell station at 3:02 p.m.

Three hours later a receipt from a store in Grayling indicated he was heading back north, and that he returned to the Upper Peninsula via the Mackinac Bridge at 7:24 p.m.

Hache, who spent 17 years as an Ontario Provincial Police officer before joining the border services, said Gbamanja crossed the International Bridge at 8:59 p.m.

A receipt from the Days Inn in the Michigan Sault showed Gbamanja rented a room there at 8:17 p.m. and paid for it in cash.

The witness told federal prosecutor Narissa Somji that he was particularily concerned about the motel receipt because the accused had rented the room just before he returned to Canada.

When he was pulled over at customs, Gbamanja had three passengers - two women and a man - with Canadian passports in his rented vehicle.

On Thursday, the court also heard from another border services officer who discovered three hidden Nigerian passports belonging to Gbamanja's passengers when she searched the vehicle.

Krystale Nelson said she found the passports after the male passenger had indicated he had an idea where the documents were concealed.

The 15-year officer testified that after she was given what area to focus on, she noticed a vent at the back of the vehicle on the driver's side was loose.

"I pulled it off, reached in, felt some objects and pulled out three Nigerian passports - two females and one male."

She said that prior to that she had questioned the two women, one of whom was pregnant and in some discomfort.

Shortly after 2 a.m., the pair approached her and "advised me they no longer wished to come to Canada and wanted to go back to the United States," Nelson said.

The women then told her their names and "insisted they had proof of their indentification somewhere in the car."

Nelson said her supervisor asked her to go assist the other officer who was searching the vehicle, "but I didn't find anything." 

When she returned to the office and told the women she couldn't locate their identification, the male passenger "stood up and said he had an idea where they were."

Nelson and another officer escorted the women back to the U.S. border about 7 a.m. on April 16.

During cross-examination by defence lawyer Katie Scott, she agreed she didn't fingerprint any members of the party, and didn't have any information that anyone else had done that.

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About the Author: Linda Richardson

Linda Richardson is a freelance journalist who has been covering Sault Ste. Marie's courts and other local news for more than 35 years.
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