Jyothi Kanics---Global Survival Network (email@example.com)
Mon, 30 Nov 1998 08:57:57 -0800 (PST)
Immigrant-smuggling rings broken up, authorities say: Dallas-based cartels
accused of moving 7,000 workers in 3 years
By David LaGesse and Ed Timms
The Dallas Morning News, November 21, 1998
WASHINGTON - Federal officials said Friday that they had broken up three
cartels that smuggled thousands of undocumented immigrants into the United
States and used Dallas as a center of operations.
Prosecutors unsealed three indictments obtained in Dallas in recent weeks
and said the rings moved at least 150 immigrants a month at an average fee
of about $20,000 each. Investigators estimated that the operations
transported at least 7,000 immigrants in three years at a profit of at
least $150 million.
Called "Keep and Seek," the investigation amounted to the "most complex and
sophisticated alien-smuggling case ever seen in this country," said U.S.
Attorney Paul Coggins of Dallas.
The immigrants came primarily from India and were shipped across four
continents, and often through Cuba and Ecuador, to about 1,000 work sites
in 38 states, officials said. Working since Saturday, police in three
countries arrested 21 of 31 suspected smugglers named in the indictments.
The arrested included two of the suspected ringleaders - Nitin Shettie,
also known as Nick Diaz, and Navtej Pall Singh Sandhu. A third suspected
cartel head, Niranjan Maan Singh, remained at large, officials said.
The three are accused in the indictment of illegally bringing undocumented
immigrants into the country, transporting them within the United States,
conspiracy and money laundering.
"The maximum statutory penalty the three lead defendants face runs into . .
. hundreds of years and millions of dollars in fines," Mr. Coggins said.
Officials also said the investigation continues and they are targeting U.S.
employers who often participated in the conspiracy.
"When the undocumented workers arrived, the smugglers would deliver them to
unscrupulous employers, employers who wanted cheap labor and fearful
workers who could easily be manipulated," said Attorney General Janet Reno.
Investigators began working the case about a year ago in Dallas and said it
had roots in other smuggling cases that date back to January 1996.
"A lot of the aliens who were smuggled into the country came through
Dallas. The money that was sent to pay for them came through Dallas. The
people who were responsible came to Dallas to pick them up," said Rose L.
Romero, an assistant U.S. attorney in Dallas.
Three of 21 people in custody were arrested in Texas.
Officials released the indictments in news conferences in Washington and
They displayed a map illustrating what they said were typical smuggling
routes from the Indian subcontinent to Moscow to Ecuador, Cuba, Guatemala
or Mexico and then to the United States. Smugglers then typically moved the
immigrants across the U.S. borders with Mexico or through Miami, officials
Besides India, the undocumented workers also came from Pakistan,
Afghanistan and Syria.
The operation "puts to rest the widely held belief that alien smuggling is
done by independent 'coyotes' only along the southwestern border," said
Lynn Ligon, spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in
The breadth of the smuggling operation helps illustrate the need for more
sophisticated law enforcement against undocumented immigrants, said INS
Commissioner Doris Meissner.
"They are being smuggled in by well-organized, well-financed international
criminal networks," she said.
The immigration service led the investigation with help from numerous other
agencies, including the FBI and Customs Service.
Officials said more than 35,000 recorded conversations, the first
widespread use of wiretaps in an immigration-related inquiry, helped the
Congress first authorized wiretaps against suspected immigrant smugglers in
a 1996 federal law designed to crack down on illegal entries.
"This joint law enforcement operation marks a turning point in the battle
against alien smugglers," said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, a key
author of the 1996 law.
Prosecutors also used money-laundering violations to seek longer prison
sentences against the ringleaders and seize cartel assets, officials said.
Prosecutors said the three rings were independent but related.
"These are basically, to some extent, competing organizations, competing
cartels, with overlapping membership," Mr. Coggins said.
One suspect, Gunvantla Shah, was named in each of the three indictments.
The cartels would get their business from families in the United States or
even unscrupulous employers who would place an order with one of the three
organizations, prosecutors said. Some of the smugglers demanded their fees
up front. Others took multiple payments at different points in the
In the United States, the immigrants landed low-level jobs in the service
industry, such as restaurants and car washes, Mr. Ligon said.
"You're not talking about high-tech jobs," he said. "You're talking about
really low-level service jobs."
En route, smugglers kept the immigrants in several safe houses in the
transit countries. At the Washington news conference, investigators played
a tape of police raiding one house in the Bahamas that contained several
dozen Indian immigrants.
Once in staging areas near the United States, the smugglers moved the
immigrants into the country using forged documents, or surreptitiously by
small boat and planes.
"The boats, many times they'd use either a marina or, in fact, just get
close enough to the beach where the aliens could swim ashore," said Mike
McMahon, a Dallas-based INS agent who led the investigation.
Immigrants endured hard conditions and their trip often took months, even
years to complete, he said.
Customs officials helped trace money transfers as part of the operations.
The indictments describe dozens of money wires ordered in Dallas and other
parts of the country for transmitting money to Ecuador and elsewhere.
According to the indictments, some of the money was sent to Ecuador and was
to be used for bribes. But officials said no corruption charges were
outstanding against government officials, and they would not comment on
whether they had evidence of complicity of other governments.
Instead, prosecutors praised the cooperation of foreign police agencies,
particularly in the Bahamas, Ecuador, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
The recent expansion of INS foreign offices, which now number more than 20,
aided the investigation, officials said.
"Stopping smuggling worldwide requires forging closer ties with officials
in countries that aliens come from, and those nations they travel through,"
said Ms. Meissner of the INS.
Scope of Smuggling Ring Stuns an Enclave
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
The New York Times, November 23, 1998
ISELIN, N.J. -- On a crisp November Sunday, Oak Tree Road here was the
picture of a thriving South Asian immigrant enclave. The windows of gold
jewelers sparkled with 22-karat necklaces. Shoppers went in and out of the
markets, arms loaded with sacks of vegetables and spices from home.
But Sunday, just under the sunny surface was a palpable sense of anxiety.
By indicting 31 people worldwide last week, in an international smuggling
operation that brought thousands of illegal immigrant workers from the
Indian subcontinent, Federal law enforcement officials struck at a ring
that brought in a constant supply of cheap, often illegal, labor. The
supply from that ring, merchants in Iselin say, helps drive this thriving
Today, just days after an unpleasant secret in their community had been
exposed, business owners up and down Oak Tree Road expressed fear about the
prospect of immigration raids and increased scrutiny by Federal authorities.
None of the merchants along Oak Tree Road would allow their names to be used.
But they said they worried that the arrests in connection with the
smuggling ring -- which Federal agents say was headed by a man based in the
Bahamas named Nitin Shettie, also known as Nick Diaz -- would lead its
members to report on other smugglers and the business owners who rely on
them to bring in workers.
"You can call it jealousy," said a shopkeeper, who spoke on the condition
of anonymity, "or you can call it competition."
The owner of one restaurant here said Sunday that the New Jersey men who
were indicted last week were known smugglers, but that their organization
was only one of many that shopkeepers could turn to if they needed extra
Four months ago, the merchants pointed out, two of Iselin's most prominent
shop owners were arrested on charges of immigrant smuggling and money
The ring uncovered last week came to the attention of immigration
authorities several months ago when one of the deals went awry, according
to a lawyer representing two of the smuggled immigrants.
The lawyer, Suresh Dalal of Woodbridge, N.J., said that five illegal
immigrants were arrested by immigration authorities in Miami on their way
from the Bahamas to New Jersey. Their smugglers bailed them out at $5,000
apiece, and, once the immigrants were in New Jersey, tacked the penalty
onto their $20,000 smuggling fee. Dalal said the financial dispute that
ensued ultimately led one of the illegal immigrants to tip off the Federal
Dalal, who represents two men from the western Indian state of Gujarat,
said his clients had been flown to the Bahamas, where they boarded a ship
to Miami with more than 20 others from the subcontinent. From there, they
were brought to a house in Jersey City, where they remained for a day or
two until a friend or an employer paid the smuggling fees.
Most of them, he said, found work at Indian shops in New Jersey.
Federal officials involved in the investigation said they were approached a
year ago by an immigrant in Dallas who detailed the smuggling operation.
Several disparate investigations then appeared to coalesce, immigration
agents in Dallas said.
On Friday, officials with the United States Attorney's Office in Texas and
New Jersey unsealed indictments in what Federal authorities described as
the largest immigrant smuggling ring ever uncovered in the United States.
Of those indicted, 10 are still at large, according to the United States
Neither the smuggling patterns nor its routes are new.
At least since the 1980's, illegal immigrants from India, Bangladesh and
Pakistan have flown first to Europe, which is usually easier than going
directly to the United States. Then they have gone to Latin America or the
Caribbean and either walked across the Mexican border or sailed near Miami,
sometimes swimming to shore.
For years, they have put themselves in the hands of smugglers who, for a
hefty fee, acted as their travel agents. And they have been easily absorbed
in the thriving enclave economy.
What made this smuggling operation stand out, immigration officials said,
was the vast number of employers who had tapped into it in search of
workers. Bergeron said most other immigrant smuggling rings are connected
to only a small handful of employers.
In New Jersey's Indian community, it was the scope of the ring that was
surprise. In three years, Federal officials said, it smuggled into the
United States as many as 12,000 illegal immigrants, mostly from India, but
also from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria.
"I've seen nothing like this, nothing of this magnitude," said Rohit Vyas,
the news director of TV Asia, a cable station catering to the area's South
Asians. "I think the community better start looking at itself a little more
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