SPOKANE AREA WOMAN WHO PURCHASED HOUSE AS PART OF DRUG TUNNEL SCHEME SENTENCED TO PRISON
Defendant Deposited Money in Smaller Amounts in an Attempt to Conceal Source of Funds
KUSUM PATEL, 52 , of Mead, Washington was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to six months in prison and three years of supervised release for structuring a financial transaction to evade reporting requirements. PATEL, a Canadian citizen, pleaded guilty on October 13, 2006. At today’s sentencing, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour also imposed five months of home detention on electronic monitoring to follow the prison sentence, and a $3,000 fine.
According to documents filed in the case, between August 18, 2003, and September 30, 2003 PATEL made a series of cash deposits into her bank account. The deposits totaled $86,000 but were made in amounts designed to evade reporting requirements. Under federal law cash deposits that exceed $10,000 must be reported using a currency transaction report. The $86,000 was ultimately used as a down payment on a house in Lynden, Washington that served as the southern entry to a drug tunnel under the U.S./Canada border. The tunnel was the first ever discovered on the northern border.
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 three Canadian men; Francis Devandra Raj, 31, Timothy Woo, 35 and Jonathan Valenzuela, 28, all of Surrey, BC, Canada. The three were sentenced to nine years in prison on July 14, 2006, for illegal drug trafficking. The Lynden house has been forfeited to the government.
PATEL was a close family friend of Francis Devandra Raj. In court documents, PATEL admitted that Raj provided her with the money she deposited into her bank account and used for the down payment. PATEL turned the house over to RAJ to use as he wished. The drug tunnel entry was in the living room of the house, under a chest of drawers equipped with handles so that it could be moved aside. Before the tunnel was finished, the conspirators made a hole in the front yard of the house so that they could smuggle a load of cocaine through the tunnel to further finance their dig.
In his sentencing memo Assistant United States Attorney Douglas B. Whalley pointed out the importance of prosecuting defendants such as PATEL who help drug smugglers with their financial schemes. “Without their activities, the distribution of dangerous drugs would be far more difficult – never mind the construction of a tunnel that could have been used for even more dangerous purposes. This case should be a reminder to anyone tempted by the money available in the drug world – even if you do not touch the drugs, your activities result in drugs reaching more people and causing more harm in our communities.”
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), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Douglas B. Whalley, Jill Otake and Annette Hayes.
For interviews on Friday, February 23, 2007, please contact Assistant United States Attorney Douglas B. Whalley, at (206) 553-7970. For additional information after 2/23/07 please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office at (206) 553-4110.