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Charges: Canadian felon swam across Pigeon River to illegally enter U.S.

A convicted sex offender and drug smuggler from Canada went to extreme measures to illegally cross the Ontario-Minnesota border near Grand Portage last month, federal authorities said.

A convicted sex offender and drug smuggler from Canada went to extreme measures to illegally cross the Ontario-Minnesota border near Grand Portage last month, federal authorities said.

Walter David Duncan, 56, is accused of swimming across the Pigeon River and hiking several miles through treacherous terrain to enter the country - even bringing along an accomplice to protect him from bears in the heavily wooded area.

Prosecutors said Duncan was en route to a business meeting in Chicago when the plot was foiled by U.S. Border Patrol agents acting on an anonymous tip.

Duncan and co-conspirator Craig John Zdybal, 24, were soaking wet and riding as passengers in a rental car when they were apprehended by agents at a gas station along Minnesota Highway 61 in Grand Portage on Aug. 15.

The driver, 26-year-old Richard Andrew Davids, also was arrested. Authorities said he drove Duncan and Zdybal from Thunder Bay to near the border, where he dropped them off. Davids then allegedly entered the country through the official Grand Portage crossing and picked up the swimmers several hours later on the U.S. side.

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All three men were charged by "information" last Friday in U.S. District Court, indicating that they intend to plead guilty. They remain in federal custody.

Duncan is charged with a felony count of conspiracy to bring aliens into the United States. Zdybal and Davids face misdemeanor charges.

Court documents indicate that Duncan probably had crossed the river several times in the past without detection. The nature of his business was not clear.

Davids' attorney, Mitch A. Robinson, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that his client is expected to receive a six-month sentence, which will be stayed, before being "put back on a bus" to Canada and forbidden from ever returning to the United States.

"I've been doing this for nearly 28 years," the Minneapolis defense attorney told the newspaper, "and have probably handled 50 or more cases of alien smuggling, but it always has been from the south. This is the first time I've handled a case of someone sneaking in from our northern neighbor."

Duncan and Zdybal are set to appear before U.S. District Judge David Doty to formally enter pleas next week. Online court records did not list a hearing date for Davids.

According to court documents:

Davids and Zdybal, who like Duncan live in the Toronto area, told authorities that they were friends of Duncan and had worked for him in the past. They said Duncan offered them a free trip to Thunder Bay in exchange for their cooperation with the scheme.

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Duncan purchased airline tickets for all three men, flying them to Thunder Bay and paying for hotel accommodations.

Davids booked a rental car and drove it to the Grand Portage border checkpoint. He explained to officers at the checkpoint that he was going to the nearby casino and was allowed to pass.

Davids said he was instructed by Duncan to wait several hours and pick up the men after they swam across the river. Davids was to drop off Duncan and Zdybal in Duluth, where they would take another car to Chicago, and he would return back to Canada.

Zdybal admitted to authorities that he had been recruited to accompany Duncan in the backwoods journey. He stated that Duncan "did not want to cross the Pigeon River and surrounding woods alone for fear of being attacked by a bear or falling in the rough terrain."

Zdybal said that he was going to continue on with Duncan to a business meeting at a destination that was not known to him.

The plot was broken up by Border Patrol agents who began monitoring Davids' rental car, acting on information from an anonymous caller days earlier. The caller alleged that Duncan had on prior occasions crossed the Pigeon River in the vicinity of Middle Falls, then made his way to Highway 61 near the cliffs of Mount Josephine to be picked up several hours later. In subsequent calls, the tipster provided the names of Davids and Zdybal, and details of the latest alleged plan to illegally cross the border.

Early on the morning of Aug. 15 agents observed Davids driving to the casino, where he stopped for some time. Davids left the casino and headed north on Highway 61, then was observed by agents as he headed back south - with two passengers. All three men were arrested when Davids pulled into the gas station at Grand Portage.

A criminal history check revealed that Duncan had prior convictions for importing narcotics from Mexico and for sexual assault, making him ineligible to enter the United States.

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Immigration records indicated that Duncan had attempted to cross at the U.S. Customs preclearance station at the Toronto airport in 1996 but was rejected. Duncan allegedly fled the airport while being processed.

Related Topics: CRIME
Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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