Convict pleads guilty to smuggling Indian migrants over Canada-U.S. border

A convicted fraudster, whom the RCMP investigated as part of the probe into the death of an Indian family at the Canada-U.S. border last year, pleaded guilty to human smuggling charges in Washington state this week.

Rajinder Pal Singh was also investigated by RCMP in deaths of Patel family on border

A convicted fraudster, whom the RCMP investigated as part of the probe into the death of an Indian family at the Canada-U.S. border last year, pleaded guilty to human smuggling charges in Washington state this week.

Rajinder Pal Singh admitted to receiving more than $500,000 US for his part in co-ordinating a complex human smuggling ring moving migrants into the United States through Canada.

In October, The Fifth Estate revealed that Singh had become a person of interest in the Manitoba RCMP investigation into the tragic freezing death of the Patel family on the Canada-U.S. border in January 2022.

On Jan. 19, 2022, the bodies of three-year-old Dharmik Patel; his 11-year-old sister, Vihangi Patel; their mother, 37-year-old Vaishali Patel; and their father, 39-year-old Jagdish Patel; were found in a snow-covered field east of Emerson, about 100 kilometres south of Winnipeg.

Following Singh's arrest last May in Washington state, The Fifth Estate reported that U.S. investigators had surveillance of Singh discussing possibly moving migrants through Manitoba. The wiretapped conversations took place in January 2022, around the same time the Patel family was being moved from the Greater Toronto Area to the remote border area south of Winnipeg.

According to a plea agreement filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, at Seattle, Singh pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport and harbour certain aliens for profit and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Singh, a 49-year-old Indian citizen living illegally in the U.S., was previously convicted of bank fraud and forging documents.

"Singh played a key role in the noncitizens smuggling conspiracy," the plea agreement says, noting that "prior to the unlawful entry of the noncitizens into the United States, Singh would co-ordinate with members of the conspiracy who housed the noncitizens in British Columbia."

To help migrants navigate their way over the Canadian border, Singh used the Life360 app, which allows users to share their physical location through their cellphone.

Once they made their way into the U.S., Singh would arrange pickups through the Uber ride share app. Migrants would often be dropped off at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport first, then another Uber would pick them up and drive them to motels or safe houses around the greater Seattle area. Migrants would be driven or flown to their final destinations around the U.S., according to the plea agreement.

'Singh arranged more than 600 trips'

Singh charged up to $11,000 US per person for his services. His rideshare scheme involved hundreds of trips, using more than 100 different Uber drivers, and cost more than $80,000 US.

"All told from mid-2018 until May 2022, using at least 17 different Uber accounts — all with false identity information — Singh arranged more than 600 trips involving the transport of Indian nationals who had been unlawfully smuggled into the United States by Singh and his co-conspirators," the agreement states.

Although the plea agreement refers to multiple unnamed co-conspirators, including individuals in Canada, so far Singh is the only person charged in the alleged smuggling network.

Singh's lawyer, Chris Black, has yet to respond to inquiries from The Fifth Estate.

U.S. Homeland Security had been investigating Singh since 2018. The RCMP in British Columbia told The Fifth Estate they were aware of the ongoing U.S. investigation, although they were not actively involved.

But Manitoba RCMP tasked with investigating the deaths of the Patel family told The Fifth Estate they only became aware of Singh when his arrest last May was reported in the news media.

According to the original complaint filed in U.S. federal court, Singh is heard in January 2022 discussing recent U.S. Border Patrol arrests of illegal migrants entering the U.S. from Canada.

"[T]hey know from where these people are f–king coming. One hundred per cent (100%)," Singh is quoted as saying, according to the complaint.

"[S]o now if we [Indian smuggling organizations, generally] want to do this work, then we have to do it from Winnipeg. I spoke to [deleted] in Toronto. He has two drivers who can pick up people from that side," Singh said.

The conversation allegedly took place the same month the Patel family was being moved by smugglers to the Canadian border in Manitoba.

The RCMP believe the family was dropped off near the U.S. border sometime on the night of Jan. 18, 2022. The temperature had plunged to –35 C and the family succumbed to the elements before they could cross.

Seven other Indian migrants were dropped off at the same spot that night and were wandering out in the cold for more than 11 hours before they were picked up by U.S. Border Patrol the next morning. Two migrants suffered from hypothermia. One had her hand partially amputated.

The Patel family arrived from India at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Jan. 12, 2022. The RCMP believe they stayed in hotels and a private home around the Greater Toronto Area until Jan. 16.

WATCH | The Patel family arriving at the airport in Toronto:

Patel family arrives at Pearson airport

4 months ago

Duration 0:30

Exclusive video obtained by The Fifth Estate shows the Patel family arriving at Toronto’s Pearson airport on Jan. 12. A week later, their bodies would be found along the Canada-U.S. border in Manitoba.

But nearly 13 months after the Patels' deaths, the RCMP still don't know how the family got to Manitoba.

Last month, an Indian police official said that the Patels first travelled from Toronto to Vancouver and then to Manitoba, but Manitoba RCMP say they have no evidence to support that statement.

That information from Indian police came after the arrest of three individuals in connection with the Patels' deaths.

Bhavesh Patel, Yogesh Patel and Dashrath Chaudhary were charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, attempting culpable homicide, human trafficking and criminal conspiracy.

Deputy commissioner Chaitanya Mandlik with the Ahmedabad crime branch, in the Indian state of Gujarat, told CBC News that the men are accused of acting as immigration agents, supplying the Patel family with paperwork and assisting them in getting to the U.S.

The three men were denied bail and Indian police tell The Fifth Estate that their investigation into the deaths is ongoing.

RCMP Sgt. Gary Bird, the homicide investigator leading the Patel investigation, previously told The Fifth Estate that Singh had "piqued our interest," and that an investigative team was sent to determine any linkages between Singh's operation and the death of the Patels.

Manitoba RCMP declined to comment for this story.

Singh's plea agreement jointly recommends a 45-month prison sentence and forfeiture of more than $500,000 US.

Singh, who is being held at a federal prison in Seattle, will likely face deportation proceedings after serving his sentence.

Smuggled back into U.S. through Canada

Living in the U.S. under a number of aliases, Singh did stints in prison in 2003 and 2009. In 2003, Singh was sentenced to 21 months in a U.S. federal prison for bank fraud and making false statements on a passport application. After serving his prison time, he was deported back to India in 2004.

Not long after, Singh, who had left a girlfriend and two children living legally in Olympia, Wash., smuggled himself back into the U.S. through Canada, according to court documents.

In 2008, inspectors at JFK airport in New York discovered a package containing more than two dozen fake passport pages and forged U.S. immigrant visas. Using a tracking device, U.S. Homeland Security investigators followed the package to a house in Olympia. When Singh's girlfriend opened the package, authorities moved in.

In 2009, Singh pleaded guilty to bank fraud and illegal reentry after deportation. He was sentenced to another 27 months in U.S. federal prison.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle declined to comment for this story.

Singh's sentencing is scheduled for May 9.

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