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U.S., Canada crack human smuggling ring, indict 14
Seattle Times staff reporter
BLAINE — U.S. and Canadian officials announced Wednesday that they have broken up a human-smuggling ring that charged up to $35,000 per person to illegally funnel dozens of Pakistani and Indian nationals from British Columbia into Washington state.
During a news conference near the Peace Arch at the border crossing in Blaine, the officials said 14 men from Washington state and Canada have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle for their alleged involvement in the vast smuggling network. Twelve of the 14 men are in custody and the two others are still being sought, officials said.
Kavel Multani, a Vancouver, B.C., resident, was identified as the alleged ringleader for the operation. Multani, 46, a dual Canadian and Indian citizen, has been charged with nine counts of smuggling and transporting illegal immigrants in the indictment, which was unsealed Wednesday.
The Indian and Pakistani nationals paid up to $35,000 to be transported from Canada into the U.S., said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Seattle.
Winchell said there is no indication that any of those indicted or smuggled across the border had ties to terrorism. He said the people who paid to come to the U.S. were likely looking for opportunity or were trying to be reunited with their families.
Wednesday's announcement came one week after 22 Chinese nationals were apprehended at Seattle's Harbor Island after being smuggled into the U.S. inside a shipping container aboard a cargo ship. The 22 stowaways told authorities they each paid a smuggling operation $10,000 to get into the U.S. from Shanghai.
But Winchell pointed out that the smuggling operation uncovered in Seattle represented a different facet of the $10 billion per year human-smuggling industry.
• Kavel Multani, 46, a dual Canadian and Indian citizen living in Vancouver, B.C.
• Nizar Sabaz-Ali, 38, a Pakistani citizen of North York, Ontario.
• Sandip Parhar, 26, a Canadian citizen of Delta, B.C.
• Armardeep Singh Powar, 23, an Indian citizen of Vancouver, B.C.
• Raman Pathania, 19, an Indian citizen of Surrey, B.C.
• Anthony Maclean, 21, a Canadian citizen of Richmond, B.C.
• Jatinder Brar, 19, a Canadian citizen of Surrey.
• Sukveer Sandhu, 18, a Canadian citizen of Surrey.
• Matthew Dehagi, 35, a Canadian citizen of Port Coquitlam, B.C.
• Harjeevan Parhar, 23, an Indian citizen of Surrey.
• Harminder Singh, 37, an Indian citizen living in Kent.
• Lawrence Carter, 23, a U.S. citizen living on Whidbey Island.
In Multani's operation, the Indian and Pakistani nationals were given false documents while they were in their home countries, which helped them get commercial flights to Toronto, said Bud Mercer, chief superintendent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Once in Canada, they were taken to Vancouver, where they were housed until Multani could sneak them across the border into rural Whatcom and Okanogan counties, Winchell said. Once in the U.S., the illegal immigrants were put in hotels until they could get commercial flights to their final destinations within the country.
It was during a run across the U.S.-Canada border in Eastern Washington in January 2005 that law enforcement learned about the smuggling operation.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection got a tip about three men in the Oroville area who had purchased maps of the border and asked suspicious questions. Several days later, Border Patrol agents stopped a minivan with 10 illegal immigrants near the Oroville border crossing.
The minivan was registered to Multani, according to authorities.
The arrests of the 10 illegal immigrants started a yearlong investigation that was aimed at taking down the entire operation, not just a series of attempted illegal border crossings, according to a news release issued jointly by Canadian and U.S. authorities.
U.S. and Canadian immigration-enforcement officials said the smuggling operation took advantage of the vast, largely unsecured border between Canada and Washington state.
"The U.S.-Canadian border is a totally open border because we have great neighbors to the north," Winchell said. "I think it's always going to be an issue; it's always going to be a problem."
U.S. and Canadian officials touted cooperation between the two countries for bringing down the entire smuggling operation and not just one run. At least 50 illegal immigrants were detained, officials said.
"It had a major impact on both countries and could have even had a bigger impact had it been allowed to continue," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Whalley.
"This type of cooperative effort between Canadian and American law-enforcement agencies demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that our shared border remains closed to criminal activity," said Mercer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Brian Alexander: 425-745-7845 or email@example.com
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