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Accused drug smuggler had Bothell ties
An accused drug smuggler with ties to Bothell has been sentenced in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 13 years in prison on a charge of conspiracy to export cocaine.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Charles Lai, 43, of Vancouver, B.C., originally was arrested when a cruise ship he was on docked in Miami, Fla., in March 2008. He was later indicted by a Seattle grand jury. The Justice Department said that, in a plea agreement, Lai admitted to trafficking a specific shipment of cocaine and firearms, which at least passed through Bothell but was seized at the Canadian border in October 2007.
At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge James Robart called the smuggling operation Lai admitted being involved with a "massive" cocaine conspiracy "touching the lives of numerous people in the U.S. and Canada."
Lai agreed to forfeit $250,000 to the government as part of his plea agreement entered into in March 2009.
The charge against Lai was a result of a joint Canadian-U.S. investigation that led to a major seizure of cocaine in October 2007.
On Oct. 24 and 25, 2007, city of Blaine officials and Seattle-based federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents followed a suspected drug courier, Canadian Herman Riar, as he entered the U.S. at the Blaine border crossing.
According to the Justice Department, Riar was observed driving to a Bothell storage unit, loading boxes (later allegedly found to contain cocaine) into his vehicle, and driving back north, crossing the border again at Blaine.
After Riar crossed into Canada, Canadian authorities followed and stopped him. They reported seizing approximately 228 kilograms of cocaine from his vehicle, as well as three guns packed alongside the cocaine.
Again, according to the Justice Department, Canadian news reports state that Shminder Johal, 34, and Riar, 26, both of Richmond, B.C., were charged in Canada with smuggling $6 million dollars in cocaine and three guns. The news reports also state that Baljinder Kandola, a six-year veteran Canadian Border Guard was arrested for his involvement in allowing criminal organizations to pass through into Canada from the United States.
In his plea agreement, Lai reportedly admits that he was a member of the drug conspiracy. The Justice Department further claims that other alleged members of the conspiracy point to Lai as the person directing their smuggling activities. Robart made findings in court that Lai was a leader of the conspiracy, directing the activities of others.
The case was investigated by ICE and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.