PARMINDER Sidhu, 39, of Brampton, Ontario, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to export from the United States five kilograms or more of cocaine before Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny. The charge carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, a maximum of life, a $10,000,000 fine or both, U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr., announced on Wednesday.
“This case stands for more than the largest seizure of cocaine in this District’s history,” said Hochul. “Of equal importance, this prosecution demonstrates that American and Canadian law enforcement partners can work seamlessly together to protect the citizens of both countries. For while it may have be true that crime knows no borders, now criminals should realize that our ability to apprehend them also has no geographic limitations.”
“Investigations of this scope and caliber would not be possible without the partnerships we have built under the Border Enforcement Security Task Force model, including with our Canadian law enforcement partners,” said James C. Spero, Special Agent in Charge of HSI Buffalo. “With these guilty pleas, the Buffalo BEST team and the Peel Regional Police Service have dismantled one of the biggest cocaine smuggling organizations to have ever operated in Western New York.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy C. Lynch, who is handling the case, stated that between 2009 and May 10, 2011, Sidhu conspired with Michael Bagri and Ravinder Arora to export cocaine from the United States to Canada. In September 2010, Sidhu hired Bagri to travel to California to pick up cocaine. Bagri then hid 97 kilograms of cocaine in a false compartment in the floor of a tractor trailer. The tractor trailer was then driven to Cheektowaga, N.Y. where it was turned over to Arora who then proceeded to Canada. At the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, special agents with the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol seized the 97 kilograms of cocaine from the false compartment during a secondary inspection.
On May 1, 2011, Sidhu directed Bagri to travel once again to California. After hiding another 26 kilograms of cocaine in another tractor trailer, the rig was driven to a truck stop in Pembroke, N.Y. The tractor trailer was then picked up by a driver hired by Parminder Sidhu. As the driver exited the truck stop, Bagri followed behind in another vehicle. Agents later stopped the tractor trailer and Sidhu’s vehicle and seized the 26 kilograms of cocaine.
During the execution of a search warrant at Sidhu’s residence in Canada, agents discovered drug ledgers which detailed nine addition smuggling trips in 2009 and 2010. These trips involved approximately 1,617 kilograms of cocaine being transported from the United States into Canada.
Ravinder Arora and Michael Bagri have been convicted of similar charges and are awaiting sentencing which is scheduled for April 9.
Sidhu will be sentenced on May 28.
IN October 2012, Asian Journal carried a piece titled “Some South Asian truck drivers’ involvement in drug smuggling in Ontario giving community a bad name.”
Reacting to a Toronto Star story titled “Indo-Canadian truck drivers from GTA caught in web of North American drug trade”, Nachhattar Chohan, President of the Brampton-based Indian Trucking Association, told Rattan Mall from Toronto that there are three reasons why so many of them are getting involved in the drug trade.
He said: “Some people are not very successful in any business and when they see successful people around them, then they think: ‘I am not successful. Which way can I adopt to make more money?’”
Then there are some newcomers who see that “this person is very well established – they have houses, they have businesses, they have this and that.” So they “start competing right away … ‘I should also be like that.’”
And thirdly, he noted there was the greed factor.
The Toronto Star report said that South Asians in Ontario, particularly from Brampton and Mississauga, were getting increasingly involved in the drug trade, according to Crown attorneys, lawyers, police and community leaders.
The report mentioned a number of cases involving South Asians who reportedly constitute 60 per cent of that province’s long-haul truck drivers.
The newspaper, quoting federal prosecutor Richard Pollock in Windsor, said that 70 per cent of the significant drug seizures at the Windsor-Detroit crossing each year involve South Asian drivers – and many of them are newcomers to Canada. There have also been significant drug seizures at other Ontario crossings such as Sarnia, Fort Erie and Niagara. But this crossing is the busiest one, involving 7,000 trucks daily. It’s estimated that for every drug seizure, 200 get away. That’s why so many truckers are willing to take the risk of making a fast buck.
ONE of the cases mentioned by the Star – that of Ravinder Arora, 31, of Brampton – was carried by Asian Journal in January 2012.
We reported: “Federal authorities in Buffalo, New York state, announced on Wednesday that Michael Bagri, 51, a citizen of Canada, pleaded guilty in a case involving the discovery and seizures of more than one-quarter ton of cocaine. … On September 8, 2010, Bagri’s co-defendant, Ravinder Arora, convicted of the same charge in September 2011, attempted to cross the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge from the United States into Canada. An outbound inspection of Arora’s tractor-trailer revealed a hidden compartment underneath the floor. [U.S. agents] found approximately 97 kilograms (more than 200 pounds) of cocaine.
“The investigation revealed that Bagri packed the 97 kilograms of cocaine into the hidden compartment at a warehouse located in California, with the trailer and the cocaine ultimately transported across the United States to Canada, via the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge. In early May 2011, the defendant traveled from Buffalo to California, where he loaded another tractor-trailer with approximately 26 kilograms (more than 50 pounds) of cocaine. This cocaine was then transported across the United States before being seized by federal agents outside of Geneva, New York.
“At the plea hearing, the defendant admitted to packing cocaine in tractor-trailers on nine additional occasions. The total amount of cocaine involved in these smuggling trips exceeded 1,600 kilograms (more than 3.5 tons).”
The Star reported that Arora, who is in a Buffalo prison, has had his sentence put off at least four times as he reportedly cooperates with the authorities. He is a permanent resident in Canada and faces possible deportment to India after he gets out of prison.
He has reportedly disclosed information that has led to the arrest of three accomplices: Parminder Sidhu, of Brampton, who hired him at his company, Prime 9, and who was extradited to the U.S. last February; Michael Bagri, who we mentioned in our January story and who has yet to be sentenced; and Huy Hoang Nguyen, 27, of Massachusetts, who also pleaded guilty in July to importing more than 100 kilos of marijuana from Canada into the U.S.
(As mentioned above, Ravinder Arora and Michael Bagri are now awaiting sentencing which is scheduled for April 9.)
The Star mentioned iother cases as well.
NACHHATTAR Chohan, while admitting the involvement of some South Asian truck drivers in the drug trade, pointed out to Asian Journal: “Because South Asians look different from others, even if they commit fewer crimes than other communities, it looks like their involvement is very high when any South Asian is caught.”
He said people in the South Asian community must realize that not only are drugs not good for the community and cause so much violence, they can also get family members hooked on them.
He said we need very dedicated people to convey that message to the community. He added: “This (drugs) is a disease. It’s more dangerous than other diseases. If your health is gone, everything is gone.”