OWNER OF HOUSE USED IN “DRUG TUNNEL” PLEADS GUILTY
KUSUM PATEL, 52, of Mead, Spokane County, Washington pleaded guilty today to illegally structuring a financial transaction, relating to her purchase of a house in Lynden, Washington. The house served as the U.S. portal for a drug smuggling tunnel between the United States and Canada. Sentencing is scheduled on February 9, 2007, before District Court Judge John C. Coughenour in Seattle. In pleading guilty, PATEL admitted that between August 18, 2003 and September 30, 2003, she made a series of 12 currency deposits in Farmers and Merchants Bank, Spokane, Washington, all in amounts of $10,000 or less, and that she structured the deposits that way in order to evade the currency transaction reporting requirements of Title 31, United States Code, Section 5313(a). Banks are required to file currency transaction reports for any cash transaction exceeding $10,000.
PATEL’S deposits totaled $86,600, and the money was withdrawn in a check used to make a down payment for the purchase of the house in Lynden. PATEL is a citizen of Canada, but a legal resident of the United States. She was not charged with participating in the construction of the tunnel, or with drug trafficking. The crime of structuring carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Judge Coughenour previously sentenced three Canadians on July 14, 2006, for their roles in the construction of the tunnel, the first ever on the northern border. FRANCIS DEVANDRA RAJ, 31, of Surrey, BC, TIMOTHY WOO, 35, of Surrey, BC and JONATHAN VALENZUELA, 28, of Surrey, BC were each sentenced to nine years in prison and five years of supervised release.
The tunnel, located just east of the Lynden/Aldergrove border crossing was under construction for more than a year. The tunnel was approximately 360 feet long and ran at a depth of between three and ten feet. It was reinforced with iron rebar and 2x6 wood supports. Both Canadian and American law enforcement monitored the construction of the tunnel and on July 20, 2005 shut down the tunnel and arrested RAJ, WOO and VALENZUELA for illegal drug trafficking.
This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved. The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jill Otake, Annette Hayes, and Doug Whalley.
For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.