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Canadian man pleads guilty in case involving largest seizure of cocaine in western New York history

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A Canadian resident pleaded guilty in a case in which law enforcement agents seized nearly 100 kilograms of cocaine. This case is believed to be the largest narcotics seizure in western New York history. This case is being investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations' (HSI) Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST).

Ravinder Arora, 30, specifically stands convicted of conspiracy to export five kilograms or more of cocaine from the United States into Canada, a charge which carries up to a life sentence, a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison, and a $10,000,000 fine.

On Sept. 8, 2010, the defendant attempted to cross the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge from the United States into Canada. An outbound inspection of Arora's tractor-trailer revealed a hidden compartment underneath the floor. In the hidden compartment, ICE HSI special agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers discovered approximately 97 kilograms of cocaine. The defendant admitted to making at least four additional smuggling trips between the United States and Canada.

At the plea hearing, the U.S. government stated that during the course of the conspiracy, the defendant and other individuals utilized a warehouse on Walden Ave., in Cheektowaga, N.Y., to conceal their narcotics trafficking operation. More specifically, the conspirators loaded and unloaded legitimate cargo (cardboard boxes, Styrofoam packaging material) into tractor-trailers, so as to further conceal the cocaine contained within the false floors of the conveyances.

The hidden compartment was also used by members of the conspiracy to smuggle marijuana and ecstasy into the United States, as well as United States currency. The government's evidence established that the conspiracy trafficked over 1,600 kilograms of cocaine into Canada during its operation, in addition to the marijuana and ecstasy which was smuggled into the United States via the international bridges located in the Buffalo-Niagara region.

"To put this seizure in perspective, we estimate that the seized narcotics – by themselves – would have enabled street level drug dealers to dispense at least nine million individual dosages – or "hits" of cocaine," said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr., Western District of New York. "The wholesale value of these illegal drugs would have been nearly $4,000,000, with the street level values at least triple that number. Thanks to the incredible work of our American and Canadian law enforcement partners working hand in hand, this enormous amount of cocaine – to say nothing of the marijuana and ecstasy trafficked by the group – did not hit the streets of our respective communities. This case demonstrates the commitment of both of our countries to preventing criminal groups from exploiting the integrity of our respective borders, and the success which is possible when our two great nations work together."

"Today's plea agreement demonstrates that close collaboration of law enforcement partners – both in the United States and Canada – can have a significant impact on stemming the flow of illegal narcotics," said James C. Spero, special agent in charge ICE HSI in Buffalo. "By working with our law enforcement partners on both sides of the border, Homeland Security Investigations will continue to identify, disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations engaged in cross-border crime."

Prosecution of another individual associated with the conspiracy continues, with the U.S. attorney's office also pursuing extradition from Canada of a third alleged conspirator. Both of the above two defendants are in custody, and are presumed innocent until such time as convicted in a court of law.

The plea is the result of an investigation by ICE HSI and CBP, along with the following Canadian partners: Peel Regional Police Department, Canada Border Services Agency and the Toronto Police.

Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 20, 2011, at 9 a.m.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy C. Lynch is prosecuting this case on behalf of the U.S. government.