October 20th, 2020

Drug trial wraps with final arguments

By Shurtz, Delon on December 5, 2019.

Delon Shurtz

Lethbridge Herald


“Rai is the guy, and Mr. Sandhu is left to cry,” were defence lawyer Brij Mohan’s sobering words Wednesday as he urged a jury not to convict his client of trying to smuggle drugs into Alberta three years ago.

Mohan told the jury, which is hearing the case in Lethbridge Court of Queen’s Bench, that Parmjit Rai (pronounced rye), who owns the trucking company for which Tejinderpal Singh Sandhu worked, is responsible for some 34 packages of cocaine found inside a truck trailer when it arrived at the Coutts border.

Sandhu was arrested Sept. 4, 2016, after he arrived at the border in a commercial truck loaded with Halloween costumes. Concealed within the load was $2 million worth of cocaine, and the accused was charged with single counts of drug possession for the purpose of trafficking and unlawfully importing drugs.

During his closing statement Wednesday, Mohan reminded the jury they must consider Sandhu innocent until proven guilty, and they must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt the accused knew drugs were in the trailer.

Defence maintains the drugs were placed in the shipment of costumes without Sandhu’s knowledge. The costumes were loaded into the trailer at Underwraps Costumes in Chatsworth, CA., to be delivered to Famous Toys in Edmonton.

Crown prosecutor Dennis Hrabcak, who concluded his case last week, called 37 witnesses, most of whom worked at Underwraps Costumes and Famous Toys. They testified they were not involved in the drug smuggling operation and knew nothing about it.

But Mohan said there were many other employees who worked at Underwraps and who weren’t interviewed by police. He also expressed dismay that police simply believed the witnesses when they said they didn’t know anything about the drugs, and didn’t do any background or criminal checks.

Mohan pointed out many of the workers were from Mexico, a country know for drug smuggling.

“Use your common sense,” he told the jury.

Mohan reminded the jury of the evidence offered by Amandeep Uppal, a witness called by the court, who testified Rai confessed to him that he was responsible for the drugs and Sandhu knew nothing about them.

The Crown, on the other hand, suggested Uppal wanted to pin the smuggling operation on Rai because Rai owed him money and refused to pay him.

Hrabcak told jury members the evidence supports the Crown’s assertion that the drugs were not put in the boxes of costumes while they were at the Underways warehouse. He said orders were typically not filled until the day of shipping, which would not be enough time for someone to load 34 packages of cocaine, even if the drugs were “on hand.” They would also have to be placed in the boxes in full view of other employees.

He pointed out, as well, the pallets of boxes were taped at the warehouse with one layer of tape, but when border officials inspected the load, the boxes on top had multiple layers of tape on them, indicating they had been opened so the drugs could be inserted sometime after the shipment left the warehouse.

Hrabcak also suggested it is unreasonable to believe an employee at Famous Toys would be able to extract the drugs without being seen by employees. And it’s not reasonable the trafficker of the cocaine would risk having the drugs extracted at the Famous Toys warehouse.

With the conclusion of the trial and the lawyers’ closing statements, Judge D.K. Miller is expected to instruct jury members today. They will then be sequestered until they reach a verdict.

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