Posts Tagged ‘homeland security’

Monday, October 24, 2011

Rouses Point: History at the Canadian Border

Few villages in New York State can lay claim to as rich a heritage as Rouses Point, and like the oft-used real-estate axiom says, there are three primary reasons—location, location, location. As New York’s northernmost and easternmost village, Rouses Point can be found at the north end of Lake Champlain. Bordering on Canada to the north and Vermont to the east, for decades it was a shipping and transportation crossroads, serving both water and rail traffic.

Until Interstate 87 was completed in the late 1960s, adding a major customs facility at Champlain, Rouses Point was one of the busiest border crossings in the state. That made for an incredible mix of good, bad, famous, and dangerous folks passing through the village every day.

A book could be written on that subject alone, but in deference to space limitations, here’s a smattering of the interesting visitors to pass through a village whose population has stood at around 2,000 for more than a century.

In 1893, thirteen rail cars filled with British soldiers and their horses passed north into Canada, returning after appearing at the Chicago World’s Fair. It was the largest British presence in the village since thousands of defeated foot soldiers from the Battle of Plattsburgh (September 11, 1814) fled north in retreat.

In 1904, two circuses crossed at Rouses Point into Canada. For locals, this was a frequent and enjoyable event. Dealing with customs regulations was time-consuming, which meant the circus animals had to be walked, fed, and tended to, allowing curious visitors to view lions, tigers, elephants, and other critters … sort of a free show.

Besides Rouses Point’s proud legacy as a stop on the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves to freedom in Canada, there were also instances of white slavery in the opposite direction, bringing young girls into the states to work as prostitutes.

Noted financier J. P. Morgan, Jr., son of one of the wealthiest individuals in American history, reportedly traveled through the village in his plush, private rail car following the end of World War I. Destination: Ottawa, to pay Canada for armaments used by the US during the war. He was said to have been accompanied by $50 million in gold (worth $630 million in 2011). It was nothing unusual for Morgan, who handled hundreds of millions of dollars in such payments each year for the governments of France and England as well.

New York City’s legendary vanishing judge, Joseph Force Crater, was reportedly seen in Rouses Point in 1930. Though his acquaintances believed he had been murdered, authorities were dispatched to the border village to conduct a search (unsuccessful, of course).

At about the same time, recently retired World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Gene Tunney passed through Rouses Point after touring through southern Quebec.

Following a state visit to Washington, the King of Siam traveled north through the village in 1931. Five years later, Anna Hauptmann spent time in Rouses Point after being denied entry into Canada, even though she was accompanied by her lawyer. Anna was well known as the widow of Bruno Hauptmann, who was executed five months earlier after being found guilty of kidnapping and murdering the Lindbergh baby, a deed that became known as the “Crime of the Century.”

In 1940, prior to America’s entry into World War II, millions of dollars worth of armed and battle-ready planes, built on Long Island, streamed north through Rouses Point to assist Canada’s war effort.

Considering the level of traffic that once passed through the village on road and rail, the village is much quieter today. In the 1920s, for example, more than a million people crossed the Rouses Point border in a single year. On one busy weekend, 9,000 cars went through customs, and in 1925, officers reported that six and a half miles of boxcars passed south from Canada daily.

Of course, those statistics occurred during Prohibition, which saw increased traffic due to smuggling. The high number of border crossings reduced the chances of being caught. Since thousands were arrested, it’s certain that a much larger number of booze smugglers escaped detection. (Flo Ziegfeld was among those caught by local customs officials.)

Rouses Point has also been visited by several US Presidents, among them James Monroe, William McKinley, Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower.

The most famous of foreign visitors to the village were British royalty. In 1919, the Prince of Wales toured Canada and accepted an invitation to visit President Woodrow Wilson at the White House. Wilson was bedridden with illness at the time, so a “bemedalled staff of admirals and generals” was dispatched to greet the Prince when he first stepped onto American soil at Rouses Point.

On November 10, 1919, Edward, Prince of Wales, arrived at the train station. Awaiting him were Secretary of State Lansing, Major General John Biddle of the US Army, Rear Admiral Albert T. Niblick of the US Navy, and Major General Charleston of the British army.

The band of Plattsburgh’s 63rd US Infantry was on hand to play the British and American national anthems. A group of young ladies held an unusual canopy (the flags of both countries sewn together) while Prince Edward strolled beneath it, shaking the hand of each girl.

Augmented by a contingent of several hundred from Plattsburgh, the throng, estimated at around 2,000, offered a gracious welcome to the future king, whose friendly, pleasant demeanor endeared him to the crowd.

(Years later, Edward made his lasting mark on royal history. After ruling as king for less than a year, he famously chose to abdicate the throne in order to marry a commoner, Wallis Simpson.)

Another royal visit to Rouses Point twenty years later lacked the details of Edward’s sojourn, though it was considered a great honor for the private rail car of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to pass through any village.

In 1939, Rouses Point was featured in articles from coast to coast as the place where “the first reigning monarchs ever to visit the United States and Canada” departed from American soil.

Security for the trip was at the highest level ever seen in the North Country. D&H Railroad Police, FBI agents, NYS Police Troop B officers, and the entire 26th Infantry from Plattsburgh handled an important assignment: “… practically every station, crossing, culvert, underpass, and overpass will be patrolled for hours before the royal train passes through this section.”

Separately, a massive crew was charged with ensuring against any equipment failures: “… every inch of the roadbed from Troy to the Canadian boundary at Rouses Point will be patrolled by section men and other railroad employees just ahead of the train to make certain there are no broken rails or obstructions on the track.”

The royal tour of Canada received worldwide media coverage, but the US excursion, described as “a private diplomatic mission” related to impending hostilities in Europe, was more low-key. Small crowds gathered at northern New York rail stations to watch the royal train pass by on the trip’s farewell leg.

Traveling north along Lake Champlain’s shores, the train bearing the King and Queen reached the Rouses Point station at 5 a.m. on Monday, June 12, their last stop in America. A number of Canadian Mounties, having stayed overnight at Rouses Point’s Holland Hotel, assumed security duties at the border crossing. Within about fifteen minutes, the royal couple was on their way to Halifax, where they would sail back to England.

Interesting visitors are just a small part of the village’s story, which spans many and diverse subjects: the discovery of the Lake by Samuel de Champlain; various conflicts, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Lower Canada Rebellion, and the Fenian struggle during the Civil War; the stories of Fort Blunder and Fort Montgomery; a lengthy border dispute with England; smuggling of just about every commodity imaginable; the wild times of rum-running during Prohibition; and more.

Rouses Point is one of New York State’s historical treasures.

Photo Top: Edward, Prince of Wales, 1919.

Photo Middle: Gene Tunney headline.

Photo Bottom: Headlines touted the royals’ departure point from the United States.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Northway Checkpoint Still Active, Technically

It’s been two and a half months since a Border Patrol checkpoint was last staffed on the Adirondack Northway, but the federal agency says the North Hudson post is still in operation, though more sporadically than after it was established in 2002.

The checkpoint is temporarily down because the New York State Department of Transportation is doing roadwork in the section of I-87 southbound between Exits 30 and 29, says David Matzel, public information officer for the United States Border Patrol sector in Swanton, Vermont, which covers five northern New York counties.

The post was last manned on May 11, Matzel says. Its infrequent use of late has nothing to do with budgeting, he says. Authorities decide to staff it “based on intelligence,” he explains. The intelligence pertains “only to immigration and terrorist activity. . . . Anything else we get past immigration is just a factor of someone trying to run drugs through there at the wrong time.”

The checkpoint has netted a lot of marijuana and ecstasy in its lifetime. The questioning stop was instituted in reaction to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Four motorists were killed when a tractor trailer rammed into a line of cars there in 2004. Since then, officials have added rumble strips and other safety measures designed to better warn motorists to stop.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More From the Frontier: Largest Northern New York Drug Bust Ever

Things have changed along the Northern New York border over the past decade. People have always smuggled things across — alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, immigrants, guns, depending on cycles in the underground economy — but marijuana, once mostly a southern border import, now streams into the U.S. from Quebec.

And there are more federal law-enforcement officers on this side of the line than ever, trying to stop it and other contraband.

A phalanx of officials from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Customs and Border Protection Office of Air & Marine, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), other Homeland Security personnel and the U.S. Attorney’s Office joined with local and state law enforcement Tuesday at the DEA’s newly built two-story Plattsburgh headquarters to announce they had broken a billion-dollar marijuana smuggling ring, wrapping up the largest drug case in the North Country ever, the DEA says.

Police are charging 13 men, from Montreal to Boston to Florida, with felony drug offenses for allegedly conspiring to import and distribute tons of weed across the eastern United States over the past few years.

“Eleven years ago when I first became involved in criminal prosecutions on the northern border, DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were two essentially unknown federal agencies in Franklin County,” said Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne. “Today they’re partners in dismantling a 300-pound-a-day marijuana operation, an operation which led to movement in excess of $250 million a year in marijuana over the past four years.

“What I’ve seen is we went from one DEA agent, who I was really happy when he would come over and work a case with us, to this building we’re in today,” Champagne continued. “And I think back then, yes, was there smuggling? Absolutely. But what’s occurred is we’ve gone from an intelligence-gathering stage to fully executing something like this, something that takes out an entire network. It’s really a growth that I could only have dreamed of ten years ago for the North Country.”

DEA and local law enforcement joined Champagne in Franklin County last week to announce arrests in a different, $25-million marijuana importation ring.

“Although all the locals knew what was going on for years and years, and I remember as a kid everyone talking about the smuggling in Malone and the area, now there are the resources to assist,” Champagne said.

Police say the marijuana came across the border in two places. The first has been implicated in smuggling since boundaries were established: Akwesasne, the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation that overlaps the U.S./Canada border on the St. Lawrence River, including several islands. Police say 35-year-old Richard Todd Adams, aka “Frank,” coordinated shipments across the river to his compound in Snye, Quebec, which is on the reservation and contiguous to New York tribal land. Adams is indicted but remains at large. Asked by a reporter how police plan to deal with perennial smuggling via Akwesasne and related sovereignty and jurisdictional issues, Assistant U.S. Attorney Grant Jaquith was vague, stating, “We are very vigilant when it comes to the exploitation of that area.” Investigators don’t give many details of their surveillance methods, but the Customs aviation unit provided high-aerial photographs of the Snye compound, and officers on the ground kept tabs on couriers, who traveled with “blockers,” drivers of other vehicles who intentionally broke traffic laws to distract police.

The second point of entry was described as a “secluded wooded area” just north of Churubusco, near the Clinton/Franklin County line in the vicinity of Frontier and Lost Nation Roads. Police would not comment on who owns the land or how drugs were moved across the border. Twenty-eight-year-old Anthony Plata of Montreal was in charge of smuggling through that point, they allege.

Police did not offer many details about how the bust actually went down, and whether any of the marijuana was distributed in this region. But they said they arrested the alleged ringleader, 23-year-old Steven Sarti of Montreal, in Vermont on June 17. They executed warrants in the arrest of eight other people today. In addition to Adams, two other indicted suspects have not yet been arrested.

Officials Tuesday seemed to prefer to focus on sending a message.

“It’s easy to forget in these idyllic surroundings and friendly communities and with our close relationship with our Canadian neighbors that there are people who wish harm or who are so interested in lining their own pockets that they don’t care what harm they cause others — and exploit this area to move large quantities of narcotics throughout the United States,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaquith said. “We hope this collaboration will stand beyond this tremendous success in bringing the curtain down not only on this drug trafficking enterprise but also on all who follow in their footsteps.”

The DEA said that money confiscated in previous drug cases helped build their new Plattsburgh office building, and money from this and future cases will go to strengthen local agencies that work hardest to break them. Police charged ten men with money-laundering conspiracy and seized $7 million in cash and drugs in this sweep. Prosecutors are also seeking “a money judgement in the amount of $25 million,” according to a press release.

Map of an alleged marijuana importation base at Snye, Quebec, on the Akwesasne Reservation, provided by federal law enforcement officials. You can see more images here.