* ‘From police investigator to underworld law enforcement advisor’
BY RATTAN MALL
A former RCMP officer, Rapinder Singh Sidhu, 46, formerly of Abbotsford, was sentenced on Friday in the U.S. District Court in Seattle to eight years in prison for his leadership role in a massive drug trafficking conspiracy, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.
Sidhu was indicted in August 2011 and was extradited to the U.S. in March 2013. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to export cocaine in October 2013. Sidhu is one of 56 people indicted as part of an international drug trafficking investigation. The leader of the conspiracy, Robert Shannon, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in March 2009. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik said Sidhu “desired to get money and be part of a major drug conspiracy and be of use to criminals.”
“This defendant betrayed his community and the law enforcement officers who risk their lives to keep us safe,” said Durkan. “Mr. Sidhu recruited another public servant to the scheme, and used threats of violence to force others into criminal conduct. His greed led him to become a trusted member of an organized crime conspiracy who sold his specialized knowledge from years in law enforcement.”
According to records filed in the case, Sidhu left employment with the RCMP disgruntled about his treatment. Before and during 2007 and 2008 Sidhu used his law enforcement knowledge to assist a criminal conspiracy allied with the Hells Angels to import large loads of cocaine into Canada and to smuggle B.C. Bud marijuana into the U.S. Sidhu recruited a corrupt Canada Border Services Agency employee to help get the cocaine through customs check points and into Canada. The investigation of the criminal ring resulted in the seizure of more than 1,700 pounds of cocaine and $3.5 million in currency.
“From the start, this defendant has tried to downplay his role in the scheme,” said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in Seattle. “However, it is hard to believe that a former police officer who exploited his police knowledge and contacts to profit from the drug trade, did not know exactly what he was doing. HSI and our Canadian law enforcement partners are committed to ensuring the U.S.-Canada border is not a barrier to justice. Criminals who think they can violate our border’s integrity with impunity, can and will be held accountable in a court of law.”
In asking the court for an eight year prison term, prosecutors wrote Sidhu “organized and choreographed an entire cast of characters who moved enormous quantities of cocaine, with great success, thousands of miles. Even more troubling, according to several of his co-conspirators, he exploited the violence of the criminal organizations with which he was allied to intimidate them and others into doing his bidding.”
Two defendants in the case remain fugitives. Sentences for 54 other defendants have ranged from 20 years for Shannon, and 10- and 11- year sentences for some drug smugglers, to probation for some less culpable defendants.
This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved. This investigation was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with significant support from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force.
This lengthy case was prosecuted by multiple attorneys including Assistant United States Attorney John Lulejian, now with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California, and Special Assistant United States Attorney Adam Cornell, now with the Snohomish County Prosecutors Office. Currently the case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Sarah Vogel.
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Vogel in a sentencing memorandum in the U.S. District Court in Seattle stated that “a sentence of eight years’ imprisonment (96 months) is most appropriate” for former RCMP officer Rapinder Sidhu who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to export cocaine.
They also wanted “four years of supervised release” after Sidhu has served his sentence.
The sentencing memorandum noted: “Beginning at a time unknown, and continuing until approximately May of 2008, Defendant Rapinder Sidhu knowingly entered into an agreement with several others known and unknown, including individuals previously convicted in this matter, the object of which was to transport illegal drugs across the international border between the United States and Canada, with the intent that those drugs be re-distributed to others, for profit. Specifically, in furtherance of this conspiracy Sidhu and his conspirators arranged for loads of cocaine to be smuggled into Canada from the United States. On most occasions, the cocaine was hidden in a motor-home or mini-van, and crossed into British Columbia, Canada, from Western Washington.
“ … In furtherance of this scheme, Sidhu and other members of the conspiracy utilized the assistance of a Canadian border inspector, whose role was to allow load vehicles containing cocaine to pass the international border without inspection. Sidhu was among those who facilitated this effort, for which the inspector was paid.
“On and before July 24, 2007, members of the conspiracy arranged to export from the United States into Canada approximately 270 kilograms of cocaine hidden inside a recreational vehicle. The cocaine was seized on July 24, 2007, by law enforcement authorities in Orange County, California, during transportation toward the United States / Canada border.
“On or before May 16, 2008, members of the conspiracy arranged to export from the United States to Canada approximately 208 kilograms of cocaine hidden inside luggage within a mini-van. The cocaine was seized on May 16, 2008, by law enforcement authorities in Everett, Washington, during transportation toward the United States / Canada Border.”
The statutory maximum for the offense is 40 years’ imprisonment, and there is a five-year mandatory minimum. This minimum is not applicable if a defendant qualifies for “safety-valve.” A term of supervised release of four years is mandatory, unless the “safety-valve” applies, and the maximum fine is $2 million. The memorandum stated: “Sidhu is ineligible for safety valve because, as the Probation Officer correctly concluded, Sidhu was an organizer, leader, manager, and supervisor of others involved in the offense.”
UNDER the factor “Need for the Sentence to Reflect the Seriousness of the Offense and Provide Just Punishment, as well as Promote Respect for the Law and Afford Adequate Deterrence,” the memorandum noted: “Rapinder Sidhu was a high-ranking member of a well-organized, long-running international conspiracy that was responsible for the transportation and exportation of enormous quantities of cocaine from the United States into Canada. He worked directly with the other leaders (e.g., Rob Shannon) over a period of years to implement the scheme and keep it successful. The communities along the border between Washington State and British Columbia suffered as a result of this, and similar, organized criminal schemes at that time. Sidhu personally controlled the corrupt Canadian border inspector, who also was involved in this scheme, and directed the load drivers. Without Sidhu, there is no question that this conspiracy could not have successfully smuggled these hundreds and hundreds of kilograms of cocaine through the international border without detection.”
The memorandum pointed out that though Sidhu has no prior history in the U.S., he is not a first offender. He was previously convicted of two counts of fraud in 2005. Also, he has an outstanding warrant in Montreal, Quebec, for obstructing an officer that was issued in February 2012.
The memorandum went on to state: “Sidhu and his defense counsel are working very hard to try to convince Probation and this Court that he was just a pawn in a scheme run by others, rather than a leader in his own right. In his objections to the PSR, for example, he focused almost exclusively on others’ wrongdoing, rather than his own. In so doing, Sidhu attempts to deflect attention from his own transformation from police investigator to underworld law enforcement advisor. The truth, which cannot be ignored, is that unlike any of the other leaders in his vast scheme, Rapinder Sidhu was a former law enforcement officer. He was specially trained in investigating exactly the type of criminal he later became. He used his special knowledge and skills, obtained through that privileged position, to earn for himself and his criminal associates large sums of money in the international cocaine trade.
“Unlike other former law enforcement officers who become ensnared in drug trafficking, Sidhu didn’t succumb to addiction or greed and agree to drive a load car or waive a loaded vehicle across the border. Rather, despite his claimed disability and apparently filled with resentment against his former employer, he organized and choreographed an entire cast of characters who moved enormous quantities of cocaine, with great success, thousands of miles. Even more troubling, according to several of his co-conspirators, he exploited the violence of the criminal organizations with which he was allied to intimidate them and others into doing his bidding. In short, after quitting the RCMP based on his perceived mistreatment, he didn’t just move on to a new profession. Instead, he turned to his former adversaries in organized crime and sold them his specialized knowledge, with absolutely no regard for the outcome in his local community or the effect on society in general. On top of all that, he contributed to the corruption of a fellow law enforcement officer, a younger kid he knew from his home neighborhood, who in turn sabotaged his own career and livelihood. Unlike Sidhu, the inspector has repeatedly expressed what appears to be sincere remorse.”
The memorandum added: “Sidhu had the benefit of a good education and supportive family. When he made the decision to team up with Rob Shannon to become an international cocaine trafficker, he certainly knew what harm it would cause. Unlike many of the other participants in this scheme whom Sidhu sent to drive the cocaine loads, Sidhu also knew exactly what risks he was taking, if apprehended. The sentence the Court imposes today should reflect these facts, and should send a powerful message promoting respect for the law and deterrence for similar criminal conduct.”
THE memorandum also stated: “The Court also must consider the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparity among similarly situated defendants when selecting the appropriate sentence for Sidhu.”
It pointed out: “There were two cocaine loads seized directly from this conspiracy, as outlined in the stipulated facts in the Plea Agreement. … The first, seized in California on July 24, 2007, contained 270 kilograms of cocaine hidden inside a recreational vehicle. The two drivers of that load were both sentenced to 144 months’ (12 years) imprisonment by a judge in Orange County Superior Court. One of the drivers told officers that Sidhu is the person who directed him to go to California and pick up a load of cocaine. … The driver did not want to go but Sidhu told him, there is no one else and “I know your wife, your wife’s dad, and family.” The driver took this as a threat, but could not reach Rob Shannon to ask him to intervene, so he drove the load and was arrested. … He has been in custody since 2007. This driver accurately identified Sidhu from a photograph, and knew that his Blackberry nickname was “Pony Tail.” The other driver, independently, also identified Sidhu as the person who directed him to rent a motor home and go to California and pick up the first driver and a load of cocaine from the motor home that had broken down. There is no justice in the fact that Sidhu will not be sentenced to a term of imprisonment even equal to that served by these drivers whom he sent to California, but the fact of his extradition, conviction, and the imposition of some significant sentence is a start.”
The memorandum added: “The second load was seized on May 16, 2008, in Everett, Washington, and contained approximately 208 kilograms of cocaine hidden inside luggage within a minivan. The drivers of that load were sentenced to 60 and 50 months’ imprisonment by U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman. … The border inspector who was recruited, directed, and compensated by Sidhu was sentenced, following a significant reduction, to 60 months’ imprisonment. … Sidhu wants a sentence comparable to, or much less than, the ones imposed upon these people who worked underneath him, but without having to take the same risks they took. The United States maintains that a sentence of six years for Sidhu, the person who directed these others, would create a severe disparity that is entirely unwarranted. While by no means perfect, a sentence of 96 months’ imprisonment for Sidhu at least begins to address the disparity among these sentences.
“The Court must also recall that the primary leader of this entire scheme, Rob Shannon, was sentenced by this Court to a term of 240 months’ imprisonment. While the United States is not suggesting Sidhu was on par with Shannon, he worked directly with Shannon on this cocaine smuggling scheme, and had management authority over his own subset of participants. Also, Devron Quast, who received a significant reduction, was sentenced to 75 months’ imprisonment, after testifying against his conspirators rather publically and at significant personal risk. Sidhu has earned no comparable reduction, but is requesting essentially the same sentence.”
THE memorandum further noted: “The need to protect the public from further crimes is another element of sentencing the Court is required to consider. … This requires the parties to make a prediction. Sidhu does not report any legitimate income other than his disability payments, nor any occupation, education, or attempted employment, since leaving the RCMP ten years ago in 2003. … He will be deported to Canada upon release (or as part of a treaty transfer), and so is not likely to commit another crime in the United States. Of course, the instant offenses were committed in the United States while Sidhu remained in Canada, so this is no guarantee that Sidhu’s criminal activities, if they were to continue, would not affect this country. Based on Sidhu’s apparent lack of interest in developing an alternative career, his long-term involvement in the criminal livelihood, and his continued efforts to shift blame for his own conduct onto others, the United States’ prediction is that if given a lenient sentence (or an early treaty transfer) he presents a significant risk to continue his criminal associations after release.”