Rhode Island school under scrutiny for soliciting funds for cartel human smuggler
Providence Public School District confirms email solicitation was sent to staff at Mount Pleasant High School.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
Employees of a Rhode Island high school are under scrutiny for allegedly engaging in a scheme involving a student who was reportedly smuggled into the U.S. by a Mexican cartel “coyote,” or human trafficker.
On Thursday night, Assistant Principal Stephani Harvey, Ed.D., of Mount Pleasant High School in Providence, Rhode Island, sent an email to school staff, stating: “Hello Team: Please see the message below regarding your consideration for an urgent matter to support one of our own students here at Mount.
“We have a student who came to America with ‘Coyote,’ which is a group that helps people. This group gives you a time frame to make a payment of $5000 dollars to those, who bring them into the states. Our student needs our urgent support to raise another $2000 to meet his goal of $5000 by February 1st, 2023. Please consider helping if you can by donating on Friday. Melanea will be around to collect money between 8:00-8:45am.”
The email is referring to Melanea Lopez-Vallejo, the school’s guidance counselor, who says she is a “mission preacher,” according to her Facebook page. The student is also reportedly an 18-year-old male from Guatemala, a source associated with the school who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from the school and school district, told The Center Square.
When The Center Square first obtained a copy of Harvey’s email and contacted the school on Friday morning, the principal’s secretary, Michele Sylvia, said it was “fake.” She said Harvey didn’t send the email; no one was soliciting money for illegal activity.
The same morning, the school’s principal, Tiffany Delaney, sent an email to staff stating, “I was informed there was an email seeking financial support for one of our students. I appreciate the faculty and staff contributing to a cause that supports a student, but the nature of the request is not appropriate. All funds contributed will be returned and we will seek more appropriate methods to support our students.”
Neither Delaney nor Harvey responded to requests for comment from The Center Square. A spokesperson for Providence Public School District later confirmed the emails were authentic, telling Fox News “the email in question was sent to staff at Mount Pleasant High School. The school’s principal immediately took steps to have a retraction issued when she learned of the email. The Providence Public School District is now investigating. We will not be commenting further on ongoing personnel matters to ensure the proper processes can take place."
School staff may have committed conspiracy to commit an offense among other violations, according to Ch. 11 of the state criminal code, a law enforcement official pointed out to The Center Square. They may also have violated federal law, 8 USC 1324, which pertains to “alien smuggling,” a former Department of Homeland Security investigator told The Center Square on condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal related to his job.
The statute prohibits “alien smuggling, domestic transportation of unauthorized aliens, concealing or harboring unauthorized aliens, encouraging or inducing unauthorized aliens to enter the United States and engaging in a conspiracy or aiding and abetting any of the preceding acts,” acts that coyotes engage in.
The former DHS investigator said that what the school officials appear to have done is like someone saying, “‘I want to sell a kilo of cocaine. Let’s raise money to buy a kilo and sell it.’ That’s engaging in conspiracy to commit a crime. Any school official claiming ignorance is not a defense for violating the law.”
A coyote is a human smuggler who works for Mexican cartels to bring foreign nationals into the U.S. illegally. Those smuggled can be subjected to extreme brutality, including rape, starvation and being held against their will, border officials have told The Center Square. Once smuggled into the U.S., they owe the cartels large sums of money and either engage in illegal activity to pay it off or are victims of modern-day slavery.
“Coyotes are some of the most ruthless people on the planet,” Texas Terrell County Sheriff Thad Cleveland told The Center Square. Cleveland, a former Border Patrol agent who pursues coyotes and smugglers on a daily basis, said, “They prey on their own people to make a dollar. I’ve seen them push illegal aliens to a point of exhaustion and even death. I’ve interviewed people that were abused by them in various ways as well. When we can apprehend and identify a coyote, we prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”
Goliad County Sheriff Roy Boyd, who’s leading a cartel interdiction task force in Texas, told The Center Square the assistant principal’s email “is unrealistic” and isn’t how Mexican cartels operate. Likewise, the purported Guatemalan national may not be innocent, he said. Cartels use teenage boys and young men claiming to be under age 18, who are smuggled into the U.S. as unaccompanied minors, to facilitate crime on behalf of cartels once they are here, Boyd and others in law enforcement have told The Center Square.
“Cartels don’t allow indebted illegal aliens to reside freely in the United States and attend high school unless that person is there for the purpose of providing a revenue stream for the cartel,” he said. “This usually includes distributing drugs, recruiting locals into employment with the cartel, or as was the case in the Midwest last year, the movement of local teenage girls into cartel custody for forced prostitution.
“One of the hazards of not being aware of the fact that Mexican cartels have a presence in every city in the US is that it allows them to operate with little fear of prosecution,” Boyd added. “Law enforcement and citizens alike need to be aware of the fact that if they have drugs and/or illegal aliens in their community (we all do), Mexican cartels are operating and living in their area.”
Nicole Solas, a parental rights advocate and resident of South Kingston, Rhode Island, who first publicized the emails, told The Center Square, “It's important for parents, students, and taxpayers to know how many illegal alien unaccompanied minors are in our public school system, how many came who were trafficked by cartel coyotes, and what if any role school districts, principals or others are involved in facilitating alleged criminal activity.
“An assistant principal allegedly soliciting money on school property, using school resources to facilitate funding alleged cartel-related criminal activity should trouble everyone. The border crisis isn't just at the U.S.-Mexico border. It's in our public schools right here in Rhode Island, several thousand miles north. Parents and taxpayers deserve answers and I encourage everyone to submit public records requests to get them.”