Feds announce people smuggling ring arrests
U.S. and Canadian residents, including at least one Washington
state resident, have been indicted for their alleged
involvement in a human smuggling operation that illegally
brought as many as 60 individuals into the United States
over the past year.
At a press conference at the Peace Arch State Park Thursday, April 13, representatives from four agencies – the U.S. Attorney’s office in Seattle, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – announced that out of those 14 individuals, 12 have been arrested and two others are still being sought.
Investigators believe Kavel Multani, a dual Canadian and Indian citizen, oversaw the Vancouver-based smuggling ring along with three other suspects, Nizar Sabaz-Ali, 38, Sandip Parhar, 26, and Armardeep Singh Powar, 23, all Canadian citizens. Multani is charged with nine counts of smuggling and transporting people illegally into the United States and Canada. All of the individuals are believed to be of Pakistani and Indian descent.
Leigh Winchell, special agent of ICE’s Seattle office, said individuals paid – and, in some cases, borrowed – as much as $35,000 a person to be transported to Canada through commercial aircraft into the Toronto area using fraudulent passports.
Once there, they were flown to Vancouver, B.C., and then transported by vehicle to various points along the Washington border. Once in the United States, most of the individuals were believed to have moved to the Seattle area and other large, urban areas. The passports were then retrieved and sent back to India and Pakistan to be reused.
Winchell said there was no indication the individuals involved in the operation have ties to terrorism.
“Most of the people coming here are just wanting a better way of life or to reunite with their families,” he said, adding that human smuggling is a $10 billion a year business. “Some of them even borrowed the money to get here.”
When asked by reporters why the leaders of the operation chose this particular location, Douglas Whalley, an assistant to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Seattle, said he thinks it was a matter of geography, rather than border security.
“I don’t think it’s
a weak border crossing,” he
said. “I think it’s a busy border
crossing. It may be perceived as easier because
Authorities became aware of the operation in January, 2005, when border patrol agents in Oroville received a tip about three men who had purchased maps of the border and inquired about border patrol enforcement there. Several days later, CBP agents intercepted a minivan carrying 10 individuals who entered the country illegally.
Bud Mercer, chief superintendent of the criminal operations division of the RCMP, said while both U.S. and Canadian authorities were aware of the human smuggling for some time, officials waited almost one year until they felt it was most effective time to act.
“All throughout the investigation, there were a number of instances in which we could have made our move,” Mercer said. “In each case, the approach was measured based on the outcome, what we felt we could achieve, and what the jeopardy it could put on the entire operation.”