Pubdate: Wed, 9 Jul 2008
Source: Asian Pacific Post, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 The Asian Pacific Post.


In a twist on the fabled tale of outlaws in Sherwood Forest, three
suspected drug traffickers who made millions of dollars peddling
cocaine and marijuana up and down the Pacific Northwest are being
hailed as "Robin Hood heroes" in their native India. The suspects,
identified as Harjeet Mann, 39, from British Columbia, Jasdev Singh,
33 and Sukhraj Dhaliwal, 38, were arrested late last month in an
undercover operation spearheaded by the Drug Enforcement Agency in
Bakersfield, California.

Cops posing as drug dealers met with the trio in a restaurant before
arresting and charging them with conspiring to purchase and then
resell 70 kilograms, or about 154 pounds, of cocaine. Approximately
$898,000 in cash was seized.

According to Assistant United States Attorney Karen A. Escobar, who is
prosecuting the case, Mann allegedly boasted to undercover officers
that during the past five years he had shipped approximately 36,000
kilograms of cocaine from Bakersfield to B.C.

In Canada, Mann's customers "cut" the product for street sales, she

"I'm the biggest there is," Mann allegedly told the undercover

He also allegedly offered to sell the undercover officer 50-kilogram
buckets of ephedrine (a chemical used to manufacture methamphetamine)
for US$33,000 a bucket and told an undercover officer he smuggled the
ephedrine into the U.S. from his native country of India.

Mann is from Gureh village while Singh and Dhaliwal hail from Cheemna
village, all located near the town of Jagraon, which is about an hour
away from the industrial metropolis of Ludhiana in Punjab.

Dhaliwal - the son of a 'granthi,' or the ceremonial temple official
who reads the Sikh Holy book - migrated to the U.S. about 12 years
ago, while his friend Singh left Punjab in the early 1990s and set up
a company called 24/7 Tire Lube & Truck Wash in Bakersfield.

Kern County Sheriff's Department spokesman, Lieutenant Mike Rascoe,
said Canadian Mann was "relatively new" to the community, an oil and
agriculture patch and "a major trucking hub" located just off the
Interstate 5 at the halfway mark between Fresno and Los Angeles.

While the suspects face life in a U.S. jail and fines up to $4
million, their friends and family in their native villages say the
three were philanthropists who spent millions of rupees to construct
roads, improve civic amenities and arrange marriages for the poor.

"Ever since they have settled in the USA, they have been generously
spending lakhs of rupees every year on construction of village roads,
public urinals and marriages of poor girls, besides giving donations
for religious causes," Amarjit Singh, former member of the Cheemna
council, told local media.

"They are frequent visitors here and no one can even imagine them as
narcotic smugglers."

Locals quoted in Indian media said whenever Dhaliwal visited his
village he preferred to keep a low profile and attended sports
tournaments for which he used to donate money. Surinder Singh Darshi,
another villager, said that Dhaliwal and Mann dodged the limelight and
recalled several instances where they financed marriages of poor
couples and paid school fees for needy children.

Dhaliwal has allegedly told investigators in the U.S. that he was the
money man behind the drug deals.

They practiced philanthropy behind a cloak of anonymity and the origin
of the charity was known only to a few.

The beneficiaries of their largesse say they cannot believe the men
were dealing in drugs and described them as "angels."

Jagraon police said the trio had a "clean" record in India with no
criminal background.

"Though they belong to respectable families and have no links with
criminals or drug traffickers, we have formed a team to probe such
links, if any, here in Punjab," Deputy Superintendent of Police
(detective) Satnam Singh told the Hindustan Times.

Indian police, however, have said they are aware of NRIs, or
Non-resident Indians, from North America who use their drug loot to
buy thousands of acres of land, build mansions and buy flashy cars.

The villages of Aitiana, Sudhar, Burjlittan and Noorpura in Punjab are
rife with tales of the return of prodigal sons loaded with cash.

One of them was publicly identified in an Asian Pacific Post news
report two years ago as 25-year-old Randhir Singh, alias Dhira, from
Brampton, Ontario.

Dhira and his parents emigrated to Canada from the village of Aitiana
four years ago.

Dhira was arrested by U.S. authorities after they found him with a
truck load of drugs.

Dhira's cousin Manjeet Singh confirmed his arrest, but asserted that
Dhira had nothing to do with the drug cartel.

"The local boys, who have dreams of making millions abroad, are easily
recruited as carriers," said one villager, who did not want his name
used fearing retribution.

He told Indian media that the word in his village is that a local
truck driver or farmer can make thousands of dollars crossing the
U.S.-Canada border on just one trip.

"In fact, a large number of women and young girls are also involved in
the criminal activities," said the villager.

In another case, a Surrey man identified as Gurdish Toor, 29, is
awaiting trial in an Indian jail for allegedly supplying ephedrine for
the Canada and U.S. markets. At the time of his arrest cops seized 100
kilograms of ephedrine worth $24 million dollars.

Toor allegedly told police that he cultivated marijuana in B.C., works
with Asian drug smugglers in Canada and used import-export companies
as fronts to ship drugs.

Toor operated firms like Golden Shield Private Limited, Simran Rice
and Blue Horse Trading Limited out of Ludhiana.

Police described the companies as fronts for a drug

Police said Toor lived a lavish life spending up to 50,000 rupees
(C$1,100) per day - a fortune in India where the average income is
less than $500 a year - and had a fleet of luxury cars.

He also built a palatial mansion and amassed unaccounted land and
properties, which police believe are the proceeds of crime.

The RCMP estimates that there are about 30 to 40 separate
Indo-Canadian gangs in Metro Vancouver, each made up of about three or
four key members and maybe a dozen associates.

Police investigators have compared Indo-Canadian gangsters in B.C. to
inner-city street gangs in California and groups in Britain's South
Asian community which go around with names like 'Santa Clara Punjabi
Boys,' 'Shera Punjab' and 'Holy Smokers.'

The RCMP, which only a few years ago described Indo-Canadian gangs as
unsophisticated and disorganized, now ranks them as a major organized
crime threat in B.C. 
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