Smuggling suspects arrested in Whatcom County after handoff of 62 pounds of cocaine

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 28, 2014 

BLAINE - Two men accused of trying to smuggle more than 60 pounds of cocaine north into Canada were arrested this week in Whatcom County.

A couple of weeks ago, two men came up to Harminder Singh Rai, 35, by his home in Surrey, B.C., and told him to meet up at the community pool so they could talk, according to a confession recounted in charging papers.

There, they told him he needed to make up for some drug smuggling loads he'd recently "lost," or else they would harm his family, according to the criminal complaint filed Thursday, March 27, in U.S. District Court in Seattle. They gave him a throwaway phone so he could wait for orders.

On Wednesday, March 26, the conspirators directed Rai to rendezvous with a man in Marysville. He drove his black 2008 Toyota Highlander about 80 miles south of the border until he met up with Tuan Van Dang, 38, of San Diego, at a Marysville hotel near the freeway.

According to the complaint, authorities had been watching for the meeting from the air and the ground.

After Rai arrived - without any baggage, investigators noted - Dang handed him a black duffel bag. Rai asked what was inside.

"Drugs," Dang said, according to the charges.

Sixty-two pounds of cocaine were loaded into the Toyota. Rai ditched the duffel bag behind a gas station and hid 24 vacuum-sealed bricks of coke in different parts of the SUV.

Authorities tailed Rai as he drove back to the Pacific Highway border crossing in Blaine. They arrested Rai just before he reached Canadian soil.

Dang checked out of the hotel and drove north, too, with a rehearsed story for Customs officers about his plans to attend a wedding in Canada. Federal agents arrested him in the parking lot of a Bellingham hobby shop. He admitted he'd been offered $5,800 to cover trip expenses from California, plus a little extra for the trouble.

Rai and Dang each face one count of conspiring to distribute more than 60 pounds of cocaine, a federal felony. Each man made his first appearance Thursday in U.S. District Court, where they face up to 10 years in prison.

Their arrests were investigated by a coalition led by Homeland Security that includes the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Canada Border Services Agency and Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Dispatcher Blog at bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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