A Ferndale ampm clerk has been arrested and charged with staging an armed robbery, in a scheme to steal $19,000 from the minimart’s safe.
Baldev Singh Gill, 28, worked at the ampm at 6890 Portal Way for about three months before his arrest this week, said a public defender, Richard Larson, at a bail hearing in Whatcom County Superior Court.
Gill and a relative, Shanjeet Brar, are accused of faking the robbery around 2:45 a.m. April 9, when a man dressed in a dark bandanna, a dark ball cap, gloves and a bright orange jacket came into the minimart armed with a handgun. Security footage showed the gunman holding Gill at gunpoint. Gill followed the suspect’s demands: He rolled a safe outside to his car on a hand cart. He told police the robber beat him off-camera. Gill denied knowing who was responsible for the robbery.
A manager at the Windmill Inn notified Lynden police the following evening about surveillance footage of two men with darker skin bringing a large box into their room, where “sawing and drilling sounds were later heard,” according to charging papers. The room was registered to Brar.
Police spoke with Brar. He denied knowing about the robbery. Confronted with the security footage, Brar conceded the box was a safe provided by Gill, according to charging papers. Detectives pieced together the story through Brar’s confession: Gill asked for a “favor,” to fake the robbery because of issues Gill was having in his home country of India. So Brar bought a BB gun from Big 5 Sporting Goods, and a dolly from Home Depot. Security footage showed a man – in the same distinctive shoes with blue shoelaces that Brar wore – buying the dolly from Home Depot, hours before the robbery.
Police booked Brar, a resident of Sacramento, California, into jail on April 11. That day he guided police to a spot on the Nooksack River, where he claimed the safe had been dumped, according to the charges. It couldn’t be found. A search warrant for Brar’s 2017 Nissan Rogue rental car turned up more than $17,900 in cash, in bundles hidden throughout the vehicle.
Meanwhile, another relative told police that Gill had driven a semi truck to California on the pretense of meeting with an attorney to obtain permanent U.S. residency, according to the charges. (Brar told police Gill hoped for political asylum). Detectives learned Gill would be returning to Bellingham on a bus, and on Sunday officers waited at the Greyhound station in Fairhaven to arrest him.
Brar and Gill are charged with first-degree theft.
Both defendants emigrated from India. Brar gave up his Indian citizenship years ago when he became a U.S. citizen; Gill moved to Whatcom County to work on a farm about a year ago, according to their public defenders’ statements in court. This week an interpreter translated the court proceedings into Punjabi for Gill.
Bail was set at $10,000 for each man. Brar posted bond last week. Gill remained in jail Tuesday.