Feds arrest alleged cocaine trafficker at Blaine border

Published on Wed, Apr 2, 2014 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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Authorities arrested two men who are accused of trying to smuggle a large quantity of cocaine across the U.S./Canada border this week in Whatcom County. 

Harminder Singh Rai, 35, of Surrey, B.C. and Tuan Van Dang, 38, of San Diego, were arrested separately Wednesday following an investigation by the Blaine Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST Blaine) on a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Rai had more than 60 pounds of the narcotic in his possession at the time of the arrest. 

Rai said two men approached him near his home in Surrey, B.C. several weeks ago and told him to meet up at the community pool so they could talk, according to a confession documented in the affidavit of probable cause filed by the U.S. attorney.

At the pool, they told him he needed to make up for some drug smuggling loads he’d recently lost, or they would harm his family, according to the criminal complaint filed Thursday, March 27, in U.S. District Court in Seattle. They gave him a “burner” phone so they could contact him to give him instructions.

On Wednesday, March 26, the conspirators told Rai to go to Marysville for a meeting. Driving a black 2008 Toyota Highlander, he met up with Dang at a Marysville hotel near the freeway.

Authorities had been watching Rai using air and ground surveillance, and noted that Rai arrived at the hotel without any baggage.

According to the affidavit, Rai met with Dang who gave him a black duffle bag. When asked what was in the bag, Rai said that he was told it was “drugs.”

Dang later confirmed to authorities that he had indeed talked to Rai on the phone and given him directions to the hotel. According to his recounted confession, he said that he “knew he was doing something wrong, but tried not to think about what was actually in the bag.”

Dang had delivered the duffle bag from Los Angeles and was receiving his instructions via an encrypted Blackberry device. He said he had been given $800 U.S. for the delivery, and had been promised $5,000 more on his return to San Diego.

Rai left with the duffle bag and headed south, where an agent observed him refueling his car, vacuuming it and discarding the black duffle bag in a trashcan. Agents on site retrieved the bag, while air surveillance kept an eye on Rai as he returned to I-5 and headed north. 

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers  stopped Rai at the border just before he crossed into Canada. CBP officers found 24 vacuum-sealed bags containing more than 60 pounds of cocaine hidden in various locations in the SUV and took him into custody.

After the drop, federal agents tailed Dang as he also headed north with a rehearsed story about attending a wedding in Canada. He was arrested near the Bellingham airport.

Rai and Dang each face one federal felony count of conspiring to distribute more than 60 pounds of cocaine. Both men appeared Thursday in U.S. District Court, and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

The Homeland Security-led BEST Blaine is composed of members from CBP offices of air, marine and field operations, U.S. Border Patrol, Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, Drug Enforcement Administration; the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP.