Washington: An Indian-American has been convicted for his role in an international money laundering organisation that conspired to move millions of dollars in proceeds for narcotics traffickers, authorities said.
Harinder Singh, 32, also known as "Sonu", was found guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business, the Justice Department said.
Singh will face a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison for the conspiracy count, and five years for each of the other two charges.
The sentencing is scheduled for April 30.
A federal grand jury deliberated for less than two hours on January 19 before finding Singh guilty of all three charges.
With this, prosecutors have convicted 18 defendants who were named in a 2015 grand jury indictment that was the first major case in the US involving "hawala" transfers of drug money.
The evidence presented during the two-week trial in US District Court, which included Punjabi language wiretap calls, Punjabi-speaking witnesses and a money laundering expert, showed that Singh participated in a "hawala" conspiracy that was moving money generated from drug sales in Canada to the US to pay for multi-kilogramme drug shipments purchased in Los Angeles and then routed back to Canada for distribution.
According to the indictment, Singh was stopped by the California Highway Patrol in October 2012, which led to the discovery of USD 274,980 in US currency in rubber-banded stacks wrapped in black plastic.
While the traffic stop was being conducted, special agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration were conducting surveillance and observed Singh's wife exiting the couple's apartment complex carrying a bag – which later revealed USD 388,100 in US currency, again rubber-banded in stacks and similarly wrapped in black plastic.
Prior to the traffic stop and the seizure at Singh's apartment complex, a federal wiretap intercepted Punjabi language calls indicating that Singh and co-conspirators communicated over multiple telephones to arrange for the pick-up, transport and delivery of large amounts of US currency – in amounts of up to USD 800,000 – across Los Angeles.
In this case, drug traffickers used a traditional hawala network of brokers spanning the US, Canada and India to secretly transfer millions of dollars of drug proceeds to the US where brokers such as Singh delivered money to couriers acting on behalf of the Canadian drug traffickers and Mexican drug cartels.
During the course of a four-year investigation, authorities seized nearly USD 15.5 million in bulk US currency, 321 kilogrammes of cocaine, 98 pounds of methamphetamine, 11 kilogrammes of MDMA ("ecstasy") and nine kilogrammes of heroin.
Previously in this case, 17 defendants have pleaded guilty, and several have already been sentenced, receiving prison terms as high as 70 months.
The indictment also charges four other defendants who are currently fugitives.