CUSTOMS OFFICER SAYS B.C. GANG FORCED HIM TO SMUGGLE DRUGS
Arrested border guard tells U.S. federal judge that Indo-Canadian criminals threatened his family
VANCOUVER -- A customs officer with the Canadian Border Services Agency is in a U.S. federal prison awaiting a bail hearing after he was arrested Tuesday at the truck crossing in Blaine, Washington allegedly trying to smuggle more than 100 kilograms of B.C. bud past colleagues guarding the U.S. border.
According to a statement sworn before a U.S. judge Wednesday, 37-year-old Altaf Merali of Surrey said he was transporting the marijuana "because an Indo-Canadian gang had threatened his family."
Merali is charged under U.S. federal law with conspiracy to distribute marijuana. If convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum prison term of five years behind bars, with a maximum of 40 years and a $2-million fine.
Merali made his first appearance before the U.S. magistrate judge in Seattle Wednesday, and will remain in jail pending the results of a bail hearing scheduled for May 9.
Following yesterday's court appearance, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Jennings called Merali's alleged involvement in the drug smuggling scheme "unfortunate when a person in a position of trust like a customs officer betrays that trust."
The estimated value of the marijuana seized is estimated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities as $680,000 U.S.
In a statement sworn in the Seattle court by Jacob Black, special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the marijuana was discovered early yesterday afternoon after a U.S. customs computer "randomly selected" a GMC Safari van driven by Merali for a secondary customs search.
With his Canada Customs uniform hanging in a rear window, Merali had earlier "flashed" his customs badge to a U.S. customs officer and stated he was coming to visit an area director for United States Customs and Border Protection, according to court document.
Once inside the Port of Entry, Merali allegedly took a border guard aside and told him he was transporting marijuana. Special agents Black and Andrew Poore were quickly called in from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
According to Black's statement, Merali allegedly told the agents that a man known to him only as "Sam" -- a neighbour of Merali's south Surrey home -- had recruited him in November to smuggle marijuana south across the border and bring cocaine back into Canada. Merali said the neighbor had repeatedly tried to set up smuggling trips but Merali kept backing out, allegedly stating he was "scared."
At that point, according to court documents, Sam told Merali he was "in too deep," adding, "if he kept backing out of deals, the people in the organization would hurt Merali's family."
Merali allegedly told the agents the day he was arrested was his first smuggling trip.
A second man -- 20-year-old Jason Dean Smith of Stanwood, Wash.--- was arrested in connection with the marijuana at a McDonald's Restaurant near Bellis Fair Mall. Earlier, Merali allegedly told the agents he was to deliver the marijuana to a man wearing a red baseball cap at that location.
The agents arrested Smith as he tried to flee the scene in a white Cadillac Escalade.
On Wednesday, Patrick Higgins, public affairs officer with the Canadian Consulate in Seattle, said his office is aware of Merali's case.