A Monrovia man was sentenced Monday to nearly six years behind bars for his role in an international money laundering ring that conspired to move millions of dollars in illegal proceeds for the Sinaloa drug cartel and other organizations.
Harinder “Sonu” Singh, 32, was also sentenced by U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder to serve three years of supervised release following the 70-month federal prison term. Singh was allowed to remain free pending a Jan. 31 self-surrender date.
Singh was found guilty in January of conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business, and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. Prosecutors had argued for an eight-year sentence, while the defense urged Snyder to impose a one-year prison term.
Defense attorney Peter Johnson told the court that his client had mistakenly trusted an uncle and believed he was not breaking the law.
Singh was one of 22 defendants named in a 2015 grand jury indictment that marked the first major case in the United States involving “hawala” transfers of drug money, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Most of the defendants have pleaded guilty, and some have previously been sentenced.
Evidence presented during the two-week trial in downtown Los Angeles — which included Punjabi language wiretap calls, Punjabi-speaking witnesses and a money laundering expert — showed that Singh participated in a conspiracy that moved cash from drug sales in Canada to the United States to pay for multi-pound drug shipments purchased in the Southland.
“Hawala” is an alternative form of money remittance which operates outside of traditional banking or financial systems. The transfer of monetary value occurs between brokers — who are typically located in different countries, but sometimes in different cities in one nation — based solely upon the trust that exists between them. The system, which originated on the Indian subcontinent, relies on long-established connections typically based on familial, ethnic, religious, regional and/or cultural grounds, according to federal prosecutors.
Singh was stopped by the California Highway Patrol in October 2012, which led to the discovery of $274,980 in U.S. currency in rubber-banded stacks wrapped in black plastic. While the traffic stop was being conducted, special agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration observed Singh’s wife — who was not subsequently charged — exiting the couple’s apartment carrying a bag containing $388,100 in cash, similarly packaged.
During the course of a four-year investigation that culminated in the grand jury indictment, authorities seized nearly $15.5 million in bulk currency, more than 700 pounds of cocaine, 98 pounds of methamphetamine, 24 pounds of ecstasy and about 20 pounds of heroin.
In August, Sucha Singh, 54, of Arleta was sentenced to five years in federal prison for his role in the scheme.
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