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Canadian man pleads guilty in international cocaine trafficking case

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A man from Ontario, Canada, pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to export from the United States five kilograms or more of cocaine following a joint investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Peel Regional Police Service.

Parminder Sidhu, 39, of Brampton, Ontario, faces between 10 years and life in prison and a $10 million fine.

"This case stands for more than the largest seizure of cocaine in this district’s history," said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul. "Of equal importance, this prosecution demonstrates that American and Canadian law enforcement partners can work seamlessly together to protect the citizens of both countries. For while it may have be true that crime knows no borders, now criminals should realize that our ability to apprehend them also has no geographic limitations."

"Investigations of this scope and caliber would not be possible without the partnerships we have built under the Border Enforcement Security Task Force model, including with our Canadian law enforcement partners," said James C. Spero, special agent in charge of HSI Buffalo. "With these guilty pleas, the Buffalo BEST and the Peel Regional Police Service have dismantled one of the biggest cocaine smuggling organizations to have ever operated in Western New York."

According to prosecutors, the defendant conspired with Michael Bagri and Ravinder Arora between 2009 and May 2011 to export cocaine from the United States to Canada. In September 2010, Sidhu hired Bagri to travel to California to pick up cocaine. Bagri then hid 97 kilograms of cocaine in a false compartment in the floor of a tractor trailer. The tractor trailer was then driven to Cheektowaga, where it was turned over to Arora. Arora then proceeded to Canada. At the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, HSI special agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers seized the 97 kilograms of cocaine from the false compartment during a secondary inspection.

On May 1, 2011, Sidhu directed Bagri to travel once again to California. After hiding another 26 kilograms of cocaine in another tractor trailer, the rig was driven to a truck stop in Pembroke. The tractor trailer was then picked up by a driver hired by Sidhu. As the driver exited the truck stop, Bagri followed behind in another vehicle. Agents later stopped the tractor trailer and Sidhu’s vehicle and seized the 26 kilograms of cocaine.

During the execution of a search warrant at Sidhu’s residence in Canada, agents discovered drug ledgers which detailed nine additional smuggling trips in 2009 and 2010. These trips involved approximately 1,617 kilograms of cocaine being transported from the United States into Canada.

Arora and Bagri have been convicted of similar charges and are awaiting sentencing, which is scheduled for April 9. Sidhu will be sentenced May 28 at 9 a.m.

HSI partnered with federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement counterparts to create the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) initiative, a series of multi-agency teams developed as a comprehensive approach to identify, disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations posing significant threats to border security.

This plea resulted from an investigation by HSI Buffalo, CBP, the Peel Regional Police Department, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Toronto Police.