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Trucker faces 20 years in prison for $14 million cocaine cargo

  1. buseman
    WINDSOR, Ont. -- A trucker whose smuggling attempt led to one of the biggest drug seizures in the history of the Ambassador Bridge should go to prison for up to 20 years, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

    Richard Pollock told a sentencing hearing that Lacchman Singh Chahal, 41, breached his privilege as a commercial truck driver when he tried to smuggle cocaine worth an estimated $14 million into Canada.

    Pollock said the case shows how cross-border truck traffic — particularly here in Windsor — has become “the primary method by which kilos of cocaine enter this country.

    There is an identified problem, Pollock told the court.

    Pollock said it’s important that the sentence deter other truckers from making the same choices as Chahal, who was motivated by pure commercial greed.

    On the morning of Feb. 19, 2007, Chahal and his driving partner Sandeep Hans tried to drive a tractor-trailer into Canada via the bridge.

    Canada Border Services Agency officers stopped the vehicle and discovered 147 kilograms of cocaine hidden in the cargo of California vegetables.

    At the time, CBSA described the incident as among the most significant drug interceptions to occur at a Canadian land border crossing.

    Both Chahal and Hans were charged with importing a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking.

    A lengthy trial resulted in Chahal’s conviction on April 15 of this year. He’s been in custody since that time.

    Hans fled during the trial. His whereabouts are unknown and there is a warrant for his arrest.

    Defence lawyer Dan Scott said his client was deceived by Hans.

    Scott said Chahal is a first-time offender and that U.S. investigators confirmed Chahal was not a key player in the operation.

    There is no question that Mr. Chahal.… was at the low end of the totem pole in terms of the hierarchy.

    A dozen family members, friends and relatives of Chahal were in the courtroom as a show of support.

    Scott described Chahal as a family man who led a simple and uncomplicated life until his arrest.

    Both Hans and Chahal are originally from India. A Punjabi translator was required for Chahal.

    Scott is arguing for a sentence of 12 to 14 years.

    Pollock disputed Scott’s suggestion that Chahal was a mere courier.

    This is not a question of a momentary lapse of judgement. This offence involves knowledge, deliberation, planning and forethought, Pollock said.

    According to Pollock, Chahal and Hans were a team.

    Police surveillance showed that when the truck was in California, bags of drugs were loaded on three occasions.

    During the trial, Chahal’s testimony was found to be vague, self-contradictory and lacking in any credibility.

    Pollock said Chahal’s role must be seen as similar to that of a plane pilot or ship captain bringing drugs into Canada. It’s hard to picture the pilot of a plane or the captain of a ship as an unwitting dupe, Pollock said.

    Citing case history and international treaties, Pollock pointed out that authorities have identified importers as the critical link between foreign suppliers and domestic distributors of illicit drugs in Canada.

    Pollock argued there is absolutely no evidence that Chahal was deceived into transporting the cocaine, as well as no evidence of coercion or threat. He was master of his fate.

    Justice Richard Gates will hand down the sentence on Sept. 10. Chahal remains in custody.

    By Dalson Chen,
    July 7, 2010


  1. Balzafire
    [h1]Cocaine-smuggling trucker handed 16-year sentence[/h1]
    A trucker who tried to smuggle 147 kilograms of cocaine into Canada via the Ambassador Bridge has been sentenced to 16 years in prison.

    Lacchman Singh Chahal, 41, bowed his head as he received the sentence on Friday at the Superior Court of Justice in Windsor.

    "The message to truckers is pretty simple: if you want easy money, you're going to get hard time," said federal prosecutor Richard Pollock.

    The drug seizure ranks among the largest in the history of the Detroit-Windsor border.

    On Feb. 19, 2007, Chahal and his accomplice Sandeep Hans tried to cross the bridge driving a tractor-trailer loaded with produce from California.

    Border officers stopped and searched the truck. Packages of cocaine were found in six large hockey bags and a briefcase stashed among the cargo.

    The estimated street value of the drugs was $14.7 million.

    Hans was also sentenced to 16 years on Friday -- but he has been a fugitive since May 2009. He was tried and sentenced in absentia.

    Justice Richard Gates said his first consideration in the sentence was that it denounce and deter the "growing menace" of cocaine importation.

    Gates noted that cocaine affects entire communities, but the drug is not indigenous: without importation, there would be no cocaine problem.

    Gates said the recruiting of truckers to move the drug has become "increasingly attractive" to criminal organizations, and he believes the Detroit-Windsor border has replaced British Columbia as "the principal route of entry of (cocaine) into Canada."

    Gates rejected the idea that Chahal and Hans were unwitting couriers. He also dismissed Chahal's claim that he had been duped by Hans.

    Instead, Gates characterized Chahal as "someone who was involved in planning and co-ordination, not to mention participation, in the operation."

    Among the aggravating factors cited by Gates were the "enormous amount" of the drug, and Chahal's failure to take responsibility for the crime.

    Chahal was convicted in April after a lengthy trial. "He has not, in my view, indicated any remorse," Gates said.

    Gates said importation of a dangerous drug such as cocaine should be considered "a violent and serious offence.

    "The accused had a choice to make, and they made their choice, knowing full well the harm to the community."

    Family and friends of Chahal attended the sentencing. Some wore traditional Sikh turbans, and some adopted praying postures as the judge made his comments.

    Born in India, Chahal came to Canada in 1996. At the time of the offence, he had a home in Kitchener with his wife and their two children.

    He has known Hans since youth -- they grew up in the same village.

    Gates noted that tax records show Chahal's disclosed income to be "very modest" -- yet he bought a house with a $316,000 mortgage.

    Chahal's lawyer, Dan Scott, had asked for a sentence of 12 to 14 years.

    Outside the courthouse, Scott said he understands the court needs to "send a message."

    Pollock -- who was originally seeking a sentence of 18 to 20 years -- said he felt the judge's determination was appropriate. "It's one of the higher sentences that's been imposed in Windsor."

    Chahal had no prior criminal record, but Pollock said that's one of the reasons truckers like Chahal get involved in drug importation -- "because they have the air of legitimacy.

    "It's these people that the court, through this sentence, have deterred."

    Asked the whereabouts of Hans, Pollock replied: "If I could tell you where he was, he'd be arrested and he'd have been here this morning."

    By Dalson Chen,
    The Windsor Star
    September 11, 2010
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