October 30th, 2020

Driver denies knowing about drugs in truck


By Shurtz, Delon on December 4, 2019.

Delon Shurtz

Lethbridge Herald

dshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

A 38-year-old man on trial for trying to smuggle cocaine over the U.S. border into Alberta swears he never knew there were drugs in the trailer he was hauling from California.

“I do not know who put cocaine in my trailer,” Tejinderpal Singh Sandhu testified Tuesday during his jury trial in Lethbridge Court of Queen’s Bench. “I can swear on my children’s heads and say I did not do it.”

Sandhu was arrested Sept. 4, 2016, after he arrived at the Coutts border crossing in a commercial truck loaded with Halloween costumes. Concealed within the load were packages of cocaine worth about $2 million.

The accused, whose three-week trial is scheduled to conclude by Friday, is charged with single counts of drug possession for the purpose of trafficking and unlawfully importing drugs.

The Crown concluded its case last Friday, after two weeks of testimony by some 37 Crown witnesses, most of whom worked for Underwraps Costumes in California – where the shipment of costumes originated – and Famous Toys in Edmonton, where the shipment was destined to arrive. Each of them testified they knew nothing about the smuggling operation.

With the help of an interpreter, Sandhu and his lawyer, Brij Mohan, dissected Sandhu’s driver’s log book during his trip from Surrey, B.C. in late August to various destinations in California, including Chatsworth, where he eventually picked up the load of costumes. During his deliveries and pickups he faced several delays, including a three-day wait for his truck to get repaired after it broke down near Fresno.

Sandhu said he routinely called his boss, Parmjit Rai, to let him know where he was and where he was driving next. During those conversations Rai repeatedly asked him how long he would be at each stop.

During Monday’s hearing, Amandeep Uppal testified Rai, who owns Interprovince Logistics in Surrey, arranged to have the drugs put in the company’s trailer Sandhu was hauling. Uppal, who was a dispatcher for the company, said Rai told him about the drugs sometime after Sandhu was stopped at the border, and also admitted the accused knew nothing about them.

Crown prosecutor Dennis Hrabcak tried to get Uppal to admit he was trying to pin the smuggling operation on Rai because he was angry Rai had not paid him several months of backpay.

Sandhu testified Tuesday border officials found the drugs after they searched the trailer, and he willingly surrendered his passport and gave officials the password to his cellphone.

“I do not know who used me,” he said.

Mohan told the jury during his opening comments Tuesday that the trial is about knowledge.

“The real million-dollar question we have to answer is whether Mr. Sandhu had a knowledge that there were drugs hidden in the shipment in his trailer,” he said.

He said defence does not have to prove who was responsible for the drugs, and he reminded the jury investigators didn’t find any of Sandhu’s fingerprints or DNA on the boxes that contained the cocaine.

“There is not one piece of evidence that connects Mr. Sandhu to the drugs.”

Mohan said his client, who does not have a criminal record, was willing to testify because he has nothing to hide.

“Little did he know he would get arrested at the border for having drugs.”

Hrabcak questioned Sandhu about discrepancies in his driver’s log book, particularly where he had “fudged” the book and entered different information on two pages, each for Sept. 3, 2016. One page indicated he had left Fresno, Calif., in the morning while the other page noted he left in the evening. Sandhu insisted that even though one page indicated he left Fresno about 9 a.m. on Sept. 3, he actually left that night.

Hrabcak suggested Sandhu left in the morning because he needed to find a loading dock from which he could put the cocaine into the shipment of costumes. He also suggested the only way Sandhu could have known what was in the boxes in his trailer is if he had opened them to put the drugs inside.

Sandhu denied both accusations, and said Rai told him “costume clothes” were in the shipment he picked up from Underwraps Costumes.

The Crown and defence are expected to give their closing statements to the jury today.

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