An Indian national from Brampton, Ontario, pleaded guilty in US federal court Friday to human smuggling as part of a ring that potentially moved hundreds of people from India across the Canada-US border. USA
Simranjit (Shally) Singh, 41, pleaded guilty to six counts of alien smuggling and three counts of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling during an arraignment in Albany, New York, before Judge Mae A. D’Agostino.
Singh appeared in an orange, short-sleeved jumpsuit with “ACCF Inmate” written on the back, which stands for Albany County Correctional Facility. He wore black-rimmed glasses, with traces of salt and pepper scattered across his cheeks and chin. He had a small tattoo behind his left ear and another scribbled on his left forearm.
None of Singh’s family or friends appeared at the hearing.
Singh’s plea agreement included an admission that he organized the smuggling of people into the US from India by taking them to Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, before transporting them to Cornwall, Ontario. Singh then moved the Indian nationals by boat across the St. Lawrence River through Akwesasne, a Haudenenesaunee community that straddles the Canada-US border and is about 120 kilometers to the north. west Montreal.
US authorities said Singh bragged about smuggling more than 1,000 people into the United States from Canada.
The case against Singh was based on evidence collected through surveillance, Facebook messages and human sources related to four failed smuggling attempts across the St. Lawrence River between March 2020 and April 2022, according to court records.
Singh acted as a middleman, charging between $5,000 and $35,000 per person to smuggle primarily Indian citizens into the US. He then paid people in Akwesasne between $2,000 and $3,000 per person to cross the river through community territory.
Singh’s accusation is unrelated to the deaths of eight suspected immigrants, including four Indian nationals, at the St. Lawrence in March.
However, there are similarities in Singh’s routes and tactics, and those used by the network behind the fatal human smuggling attempt, which also left a Romanian family of four dead.
The plea agreement included an admission that Singh, using locals, loaded Indian nationals onto boats that sailed from Cornwall Island at Akwesasne, across the water to the south bank of the St. Lawrence River, where they were picked up in vehicles and taken to a nearby place. New York State Motels.
This was the same route followed by the Indian and Romanian families who died in March.
A cog in a larger network
After the hearing, Singh’s lawyer, Lee Kindlon, told Breaking: that his client was probably exaggerating when he claimed that he smuggled 1,000 people across the border. Kindlon said Singh was just one cog in a much larger web.
“Hopefully, through sentencing, we can show that his role in this larger undertaking was actually quite small,” said Kindlon, of the Albany-based Kindlon law firm.
“I’m not sure how much you fully know about the larger network. They all answer to someone else, but who is at the top of the food chain, I’m not sure you knew or understood.”
Singh also suffered from depression and anxiety in prison, Kindlon said.
Singh’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for December 28, 2023. He faces a possible prison sentence of five to 15 years and deportation to India.
“He’s always regretted getting carried away with all this,” Kindlon said. “Saying guilty here is the first step toward redemption and ultimately acceptance of punishment and responsibility.”
Evidence collected by US authorities shows that Singh exploited vulnerable Akwesasne members facing addiction and poverty as part of his operation.
Singh, who was facing deportation from Canada when he was arrested and extradited, originally came to Montreal from India in 2010 with his then-wife and a son, and filed asylum claims. Later, his mother arrived with her other child and also submitted asylum applications. All five were ultimately thrown out, according to court records.
Canadian authorities were unable to return them to India because the Indian consulate refused to provide travel documents.
Singh attempted to stay in Canada after marrying a second wife, who sponsored him. That request was pending at the time of his arrest in the summer of 2022.
Smuggled during the COVID-19 outbreak
The US case against Singh arose from his failed attempt to smuggle three Indian nationals into the US in March 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the border to be closed.
In this case, he used an Akwesasne single mother of two who was dealing with severe trauma and facing costs related to the care of one of her children, which required prolonged hospitalization, according to court records.
The woman is said to have picked up three Indian nationals after they crossed the St. Lawrence River and taken them to a motel on the eastern border of Akwesasne, which was under US Border Patrol surveillance.
The officers stopped her vehicle the next day after she returned and picked up the three Indian nationals, who tried to flee the traffic stop. The woman also tried to flee, eventually colliding with four Border Patrol vehicles.
In another case, in late winter 2021, a family in India allegedly paid Singh thousands of dollars to smuggle a family member into the US. Singh took the individual to a motel in Cornwall, Ontario. .
“Singh bragged about smuggling over 1,000 people and that [the Indian national] I had nothing to worry about,” according to US records.
The Indian national boarded a boat on March 4 with three other immigrants and landed in a US part of Akwesasne governed by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council. But no one was there to pick them up.
Tribal police found three of them and called US Border Patrol. The fourth was found at a motel in Massena, NY