A Richmond businessman and a former B.C. border guard have been sentenced to a total of 33 years after smuggling $5 million worth of cocaine into Canada from the U.S.
Shminder Singh Johal, who owns a Richmond limousine company and has three young children, got 18 years for the 2007 crime.
Baljinder Singh Kandola, a father of one who made about $16,000 for waving through a shipment of 208 kg of cocaine, was sentenced to 15 years for his role in what the judge called a sophisticated operation.
Both men walked into jail free men and were taken into custody after the sentence was delivered in New Westminster B.C. Supreme Court in front of their family and friends. Neither made a comment when invited in court to do so. Both men entered not guilty pleas.
“Their only motivation would appear to be greed,” said Justice Selwyn Romilly in his written judgment.
“The level of sophistication indicates that both Kandola and Johal knew the risk,” he wrote. “This is particularly so for Kandola, who was employed in a role that was dedicated to preventing the very activity he was convicted of.”
Crown had asked for 20 years for each.
Johal’s lawyer, Danny Markowitz, who asked for sentence of 12 to 15 years for his client, called the 18 years “unfair.”
He said a third person convicted, Herman Riar, 28, who drove the vehicle with the cocaine, was sentenced to 12 years.
But Romilly noted Johal and Kandola played “significantly” bigger roles and that Riar pleaded guilty.
Kandola’s lawyer, James Sutherland, said it was an “appropriate”sentence but added it was a hard day for his client, who will be separated from his wife and young son.
“He’s fundamentally a good man,” he said. “No one can impose a punishment greater than what Bal imposes upon himself daily for the regrets he had about his own judgments and the guilt for letting himself, his wife and his son down,” wrote his brother-in-law Sundeep Samra in a letter of support Romilly included in the judgment.
Riar was arrested on Oct. 25, 2007, after following Johal’s car through Kandola’s booth at the Pacific Highway crossing, and the cocaine and three guns were found in Riar’s car. About $225,000 was found in Johal’s house and seized under forfeiture laws.
Kandola had communicated with Johal and Riar to make sure they’d pass through Customs without questioning in return for $6,000 cash and more than $10,000 in benefits, such as car parts and repairs.
Both men denied importing cocaine but Romilly didn’t believe them. He also wrote, “There is good reason to believe [it] was not the first time” they imported cocaine into Canada.
Romilly noted that Crown prosecutor James Torrance said the case “strikes at the heart of Canada’s democratic system” because public officials are expected not to be on the take.
RCMP federal spokesman Sgt. Duncan Pound said organized crime was behind the smuggling and there was a parallel investigation in the U.S.
Two others, including Vancouver businessman Charles Lai, pleaded guilty in a Seattle court. Lai is serving 13 years in prison. Prisoners in federal jail are eligible for early release after serving one-third of their sentences, meaning they could be out in five to six years.