Subject: News/US: Smashing a Smuggling Ring
From: Melanie Orhant (email@example.com)
Date: Mon Jun 28 1999 - 17:11:42 EDT
This is not specifically a trafficking piece; however, I thought it was
interesting....maybe you will to.
Smashing a Smuggling Ring
By John F. Yarbrough
ABC News, June 24, 1999
Nick Diaz seemed to be looking right at Andres, who was starting to sweat,
wondering if Diaz knew just what was happening. Anything could go wrong,
Andres knew. At any moment the deal could fall apart.
After all, Nick Diaz did not like to encounter problems on his way to
pulling in roughly $48 million a year as head of one of the most extensive
alien-smuggling organizations in the world. He was legendary in his native
India, feared and revered by fellow smugglers, and ever elusive to
Andres let his fellow smugglers, Susannah and Fernando, do all the talking
in the hotel room in Quito, Ecuador. But it was Diaz who did the dealing,
getting an exclusive agreement with these lesser smugglers seeking to get
in on his action.
ìI am big, I am bigger than Pablo Escobar,î Diaz told them at one point,
alluding to the late Medellin drug cartel kingpin who had once been his
mentor, and whose niece he had even dated. ìThe only difference is that no
one has ever seen my face.î
ìThey have now,î he thought to himself. ìThey have now.î
Andres, an undercover U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service agent
sitting in the next room, had videotaped the entire meeting between Diaz
and the two other undercover agents.
Diaz had, in fact, not sealed another deal to widen his reach, but had
sealed his fate.
A Little Luck, A Lot of Wiretapping
Through court documents, and conversations with undercover INS agents
speaking for the first time about the operation, a picture emerges of how
Diazís smuggling ring operated, and how authorities broke it.
Led by a core group of INS agents working with the Department of Justice,
the FBI and authorities in several countries, Operation Seek and Keep would
ultimately dismantle one of the most complex alien-smuggling rings ever
targeted by the U.S. government.
It was the first time the INS took the lead in an undercover operation, and
the first time the INS ever initiated a wiretap operation, intercepting
some 35,000 phone calls by smugglers. It was also the first time
money-laundering charges were used to prosecute a smuggling cartel and
seize its assets.
The Diaz pipeline was moving aliens out of India to Moscow and then to
Cuba, from where the complexity of the operation grew. Some were then taken
to the Bahamas, where they were held until they could be moved by plane or
boat to Florida. Others were taken down to Ecuador, from where would be
flown to Miami or moved by boat, plane, and land through Central America up
through Mexico and into Texas.
Profits from the ring were then funneled back to India through Canada,
Dubai, and the United Arab Emirates.
At its height, the ring was smuggling up to 200 aliens a month and
delivering them to unscrupulous employers in 38 U.S. states, mostly on the
Along the way, the illegal immigrants -- who paid the smugglers about
$20,000 per person -- were treated like cattle, held by the dozens in small
rooms in stash houses along the way. Those whose ultimate employers paid
for their transit would have to work in places ranging from fast-food
restaurants to sweatshops -- until they paid back the employers.
Everyone Wanted to Smuggle With Him
It took more than three years of investigating before agents knew that
Diaz, whose real name is Nittin Shettie, was their target, then months more
before they could arrest him.
ìNick Diaz was a mystery -- everyone had heard of him, everyone wanted to
smuggle with him, everyone wanted to investigate him,î says Andres, who
requested that his real name not be used because he still works undercover.
ìBut nobody knew him.î
Agents got their first break in 1995 when they found out a commercial pilot
working out of McAllen, Texas, was transporting illegals in his twin-engine
plane to Dallas and Oklahoma. They linked the smuggling trail to Central
America and ultimately to two key smugglers, Gloria Canales and Niranjan
At that point it became a formal racketeering and money-laundering case.
Undercover agents approached the smugglers in the fall of 1997, and soon
were working with them, transporting aliens for them by boat, and by small
planes flown by agents posing as rogue INS pilots.
ìThey had an intelligence system that is as good as any organized crime in
the country,î says Mark, an INS agent based in Dallas. ìThey were good, but
we were good, too.î
The real break came when a former smuggler, who had become an informant
after being released from prison, contacted Fernando, an INS agent based in
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The informant acted as a go-between and put INS
agents in touch with Diazís underlings. After several failed attempts, a
meeting was brokered in September 1998 to meet with Diaz. Finally, the
undercover agents knew what Diaz looked like, and began smuggling illegal
aliens for him.
The Life Went Out of Him
By November 1998, after having worked for months with Diaz, investigators
felt the case against him and others was complete, and they secured
In mid-November, arrests were made in dozens of cities in the United States
and elsewhere, including Panama, New York and Los Angeles.
But it was in Nassau that Operation Seek and Keep scored its real prey --
even after it nearly lost it altogether.
Eager agents arrived in the Bahamian port ready to meet with Diaz and then,
with local police moving in first, make arrests. But bureaucratic delays
and turf battles with local authorities delayed things. Agents event had to
slip into a restaurant where other operatives were eating with Diaz, to
signal to them that the plan was off. As had happened before, they worried
Diaz would get wise and slip away.
Finally, Bahamian police raided Diazí stash house in Nassau, and U.S.
agents quickly followed. As dozens of illegal Indian and Pakistani
immigrants and their smugglers filed past them, Andres recognized one, who
had just mixed into the line with the others.
He pulled aside the Indian with the ponytail and earring and asked him his
ìRoshan Bhajun,î he answered.
ìYouíre not Roshan Bhajun,î Andres told him. ìYouíre Nick Diaz.î
Diaz deflated immediately. Handcuffed, he fumbled through explanations,
tried to bargain with the police and agents, even displayed some of the
bravado that Andres had seen on the videotape. Then, finally, he slumped on
a chair, and a tear came to his eye.
ìThe life went out of him,î Andres recalls.
Six months later, Diaz pleaded guilty in a U.S. courtroom to
money-laundering charges that sent him to prison for 10 years. Seventeen
others, including Canales, Maan Singh and most of his other associates, did
the same. Today the INS and Department of Justice continue to go after
others involved in the ring.
Even behind bars, agents say, Diaz still speaks of his stature as a
smuggling kingpin in wistful, bragging tones, as he did that day in the
Quito hotel room.
But it is another image Andres keeps of Diaz, both in his head and on the
wall of one of his offices in Texas.
That of the teary-eyed man who knows his time has run out, and that perhaps
his only future in the smuggling world may be as a paid informant.
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