Femme Fatale Seized in Russia-U.S. Smuggling Scheme

By Vic Walter And Krista Kjellman

Sep 4, 2006 8:15am

Federal agents have arrested the woman they say controlled the money and the books of a Russian smuggling ring using sailboats in the Caribbean to smuggle illegal aliens into the United States.

Authorities say Margarita Pouchkareva was taken into custody by ICE agents this spring in New York based on charges in a federal indictment.   

Ms. Pouchkareva, along with nine other defendants and several other accomplices, including one named "Crocodile," is accused of bringing aliens to, transporting and concealing them within the United States and using counterfeit visas and passports, all "for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain," according to the indictment.

Specifically, Ms. Pouchkareva is accused of playing the roles of both the secretary and the treasurer of the ring.   According to the indictment, Ms. Pouchkareva provided documents and employment, or the illusion of "legitimate employment," for the illegal immigrants smuggled into the country, and she would then "collect payments for the services provided by the smuggling organization and would disburse funds to pay for the organization’s operational needs. "   

According to the indictment, she has been involved in transferring funds totaling more than $70,000 from December 2000 to December 2003 for the operation.   

As ABCNews.com previously reported on The Blotter, hundreds of illegal immigrants from Russian are sneaking into the United States on sailboats launched from the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Panama for $15,000 a head, including airfare from Russia. With the connection between al Qaeda and Chechen rebels, U.S. officials are concerned that this ring could be the conduit by which terrorists enter the country.

The ring’s alleged leader, Pavel Shkinder, nicknamed "Pasha," is also under federal indictment but remains in the human smuggling business in Moscow, according to federal authorities.  Read the indictment in the case.

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