N.J. man sentenced to probation in border case

Posted May 22, 2009, at 1:21 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:47 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine – A federal judge Friday sentenced a New Jersey man who tried to smuggle a friend into the country from Canada to two years of probation.

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock said he was convinced that Laurentino Goncalves Branco, 34, of Kearny, N.J., had learned his lesson.

Branco pleaded guilty in January to attempting to transport and alien. He has been free on bail while awaiting sentencing. He faced up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Under the prevailing federal sentencing guidelines the recommended sentence was up to six months in prison or probation for one to five years.

“I’m sorry for everything I did,” an emotional Branco told Woodcock. “It will never happen again.”

A naturalized citizen who grew up in Portugal, Branco traveled from New Jersey on Dec. 26, 2008 and tried to enter Canada at the Houlton border crossing to meet Pedro Pereira, according to court documents.

Pereira, who is awaiting sentencing on an illegal re-entry charge, is a citizen of Portugal.

He wanted to return to New Jersey after being deported last fall to be with his pregnant wife.

Branco crossed the border on Dec. 27, 2008 and met with Pereira and a Canadian man whom Branco paid $1,500 that had been given to him by Pereira’s wife,

according to court documents.

Branco returned to the U.S. and was supposed to have met up with his friend, who crossed the border on foot, avoiding the border crossing.

Pereira became lost and was arrested. When he called Branco to tell him he was with Border Patrol agents, Branco headed back to New Jersey, according to court documents. He was in Bangor when agents called him and

asked him to return to Houlton to be interviewed about his connection to Pereira.

Branco drove back to Houlton and was arrested. He cooperated fully with U.S. officials, Assistant U.S. James Moore told Woodcock.

“You came to this country as an immigrant,” the judge told Branco in imposing the sentence. “You accepted all the benefits of citizenship [but] have intentionally broken this country’s immigration laws. It is a sorry way to repay this country for all it has given you.”

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