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Monrovia Man Sentenced to 70 Months Prison in Sinaloa Drug Ring Money Laundering

A Monrovia man who was part of an international drug money laundering organization has been sentenced to 70 months in federal prison for conspiring to move millions of dollars in proceeds for the Sinaloa cartel and other narcotics traffickers.

Harinder Singh, a.k.a. "Sonu," 34, was sentenced late Monday by United States District Judge Christina A. Snyder, who imposed the sentence after noting Singh's "escalating" involvement in the money laundering conspiracy.

Singh was sentenced after being found guilty by a jury last January of conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business and operating an unlicensed money transmitted business.

Singh was the 17th defendant convicted as a result of a 2015 grand jury indictment that was the first major United States criminal case involving "hawala" transfers of drug money.

According to court documents, hawala is an international underground money remittance system based on trust between the participants. The hawala system originated on the Indian subcontinent and relies on long-established connections between brokers, who usually are located in different countries, but sometimes are in different cities in one nation. The trust and long-established connection between brokers typically are based on familial, ethnic, religious, regional and/or cultural grounds. Since traditional banking and financial systems are not involved in hawala, it operates without leaving a paper trail. Under the hawala system, only the value of the money is transferred, not the money itself.

In this case, drug traffickers used a traditional hawala network of brokers in the United States, Canada and India to secretly transfer millions of dollars of drug proceeds to the United States, where brokers such as Singh delivered the money to couriers acting on behalf of Canadian drug traffickers and Mexican drug cartels. Prosecutors said the conspiracy was responsible for transferring at least $4 million in drug proceeds.

The evidence presented at his two-week trial in United States District Court showed that Singh participated in a hawala conspiracy that moved money generated from drug sales in Canada to the United States. The money was used to pay for multi-kilogram drug purchases in Los Angeles, which was then routed to Canada for distribution.

California Highway Patrol officers discovered $274,980 in U.S. currency wrapped in black plastic when Singh was stopped in October 2012. During that traffic stop, Drug Enforcement Administration special agents conducted surveillance and observed Singh's wife exiting the couple's apartment complex carrying a bag, which was later found to contain $388,100 in U.S. currency. That cash also was rubber-banded in stacks and similarly wrapped in black plastic.

Prior to the traffic stop and the seizure at Singh's apartment complex in Monrovia, a federal wiretap intercepted Punjabi-language telephone calls indicating that Singh and co-conspirators communicated over multiple prepaid - or "burner" - telephones to arrange for the pick-up, transport and delivery of large amounts of U.S. currency - in amounts of up to $800,000 - across the Los Angeles area.

Soon after the October 2012 traffic stop, Singh met with law enforcement agents and admitted collecting large sums of bulk cash on a weekly basis and receiving approximately $300 for every $200,000 in shipments, according to court documents.

During the course of a four-year investigation by the DEA's L.A. Strike Force and IRS Criminal Investigation, authorities seized nearly $15.5 million in bulk U.S. currency, 321 kilograms of cocaine, 98 pounds of methamphetamine, 11 kilograms of MDMA and nine kilograms of heroin.

Other individuals convicted in this case include Singh's uncle, Sucha Singh, who received a 63-month sentence for his role as a hawala broker; Bradley John Martin, who similarly received a 63-month sentence for his role as a money courier; and Harmeet Singh, who received a 42-month sentence for his role as a hawala broker.

The investigation in this case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and IRS Criminal Investigation. These agencies received assistance and support from the Santa Ana Police Department, the Beverly Hills Police Department and the Pomona Police Department.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Carol Alexis Chen of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice press release

- Brad Haugaard

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