News and Press Releases

CANADIAN DRUG TRAFFICKER PLEADS GUILTY TO COCAINE SMUGGLING CONSPIRACY
Vancouver BC Resident Was Arrested Last Year as Cruise Ship Docked in Miami

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 16, 2009

CHARLES LAI, 43, of Vancouver, BC pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to Conspiracy to Export Cocaine. LAI was arrested last March when the cruise ship he was on docked in Miami, Florida. LAI was indicted March 20, 2008, by a grand jury in Seattle. In his plea agreement LAI admits to trafficking a specific shipment of cocaine and firearms that were seized at the Canadian border in October 2007. LAI is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge James L. Robart on June 15, 2009.

Conspiracy to Export Cocaine is punishable by ten years to life in prison, and a $4 million fine. Under the terms of the plea agreement, LAI must be sentenced to twelve to fifteen years in prison or either side can withdraw from the plea agreement. LAI agreed to forfeit $250,000 to the government as part of his plea agreement.

LAI was charged as part of a joint Canadian-United States investigation that led to a major seizure of cocaine in October 2007. On October 24 and 25, 2007, Blaine and Seattle ICE agents followed a suspected drug courier, Canadian Herman Riar, as he entered the United States at the Blaine border crossing. He was observed driving to a Bothell storage unit, loading boxes (later 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 seized approximately 228 kilograms of cocaine from his vehicle. They also found three guns packed alongside the cocaine. 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 admits that he was a member of the drug conspiracy. Other members of the conspiracy claim LAI was the person directing their smuggling activities.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Doug Whalley and Patricia Lally.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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