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Ontario man allegedly claimed he smuggled over 1,000 people through Akwesasne

An Ontario man who once allegedly bragged he’d moved over 1,000 people across the Canada-U.S. border, is now facing a nine-count indictment alleging he was the “primary organizer” of a human smuggling network using Akwesasne Mohawk territory.

Simranjit “Shally” Singh of Brampton, Ont., pleaded not guilty on Wednesday in the U.S. Federal Court for the Northern District of New York to charges related to human smuggling. He was extradited to the U.S. on Thursday.

The indictment is based on evidence gathered through surveillance, Facebook messages and human sources related to four failed smuggling attempts across the St. Lawrence River between March 2020 and April 2022, according to court records. 

Singh allegedly acted as a broker, charging $5,000 to $35,000 per person to smuggle mainly Indian nationals into the U.S., according to court records. 

He then paid people in the community between $2,000 to $3,000 per person to take them across the river through Akwesasne territory. 

Singh’s indictment is not connected to the deaths of eight suspected migrants — including four Indian citizens — on the St. Lawrence last week. 

However, there are similarities. 

People on two boats search a marshy area.
Emergency crews search marshland on the St. Lawrence River on Friday. The bodies of eight suspected migrants were eventually pulled from the water. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Singh, on one occasion, allegedly offered a woman $4,000 to take three Indian nationals across the river to a nearby motel in New York state, according to court records. 

Court records also allege that, at least once, Singh shared the same Akwesasne boatman with another smuggling broker, indicating more than one of them was operating through the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) territory which straddles the Ontario, Quebec and New York state borders. The St. Lawrence River runs through the community, creating channels around islands. 

Facing deportation

Singh, who is currently facing deportation in Canada, arrived in Montreal from India in 2010 with his then-wife and one child and filed refugee claims. His mother then arrived with his other child and also filed refugee claims. All five were ultimately rejected, according to court records.

Canadian authorities could not return them to India because the Indian consulate refused to provide travel documents. Singh is now attempting to stay through his second wife, who sponsored him. That application was pending at the time of his arrest last summer.

On a Tuesday evening in March 2020, days before the COVID-19 pandemic closed the border, Singh allegedly arranged to smuggle three Indian nationals across the river.   

A road sign gives directions to communities near the Canada-U.S. border.
A sign near Cornwall, Ont., directs travellers to the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, which straddles the Canada-U.S. border. (Jonathan Dupaul/Radio-Canada)

He communicated over Facebook messenger with the aforementioned woman, a single mother, from Akwesasne to pick them up once they reached the shore. 

“Ok they cross river,” Singh wrote, at 8:51 p.m. on March 17, 2020, according to evidence from U.S. authorities filed in a Canadian court as part of his extradition. 

“Yes,” replied the woman, who then drove them about 15 kilometres to the Great View Motel in Fort Covington, N.Y. 

The woman, who CBC News is not naming, told the court she was struggling with addictions at the time to bury severe trauma caused by years of child sexual abuse and later violent domestic abuse. 

One of her two children also suffered serious medical ailments requiring extensive hospitalization, according to court records. 

She took the migrants to Room 103 shortly before 9 p.m. and texted Singh. 

“Dropped,” she wrote. 

A roadside motel is seen in the twilight.
Three Indian nationals stayed briefly at the Great View Motel, seen here on Wednesday, after they were smuggled into the U.S. in March 2020, allegedly under Singh’s direction. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

She then drove to Cornwall, Ont. — on the northern shore of the St. Lawrence — to collect her pay and deliver bottles of liquor to Singh. 

By the next morning, U.S. Border Patrol agents waited and watched at the hotel. They knew she had delivered migrants there, according to court records. She had also used her own name to book their room and, worried, returned to pick them up — allegedly against Singh’s advice. 

Agents followed her before pulling them over. Three men “were seen ‘bailing out'” of the car, according to the documents. They were detained and charged with improper entry by an alien. After pleading guilty they were processed through the immigration system.

But the woman allegedly sped off and crashed into four Border Patrol vehicles. She was taken to hospital as a precautionary measure and charged. She eventually pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling and was sentenced to time served last year. 

In one of the other cases, in late winter 2021, a family in India allegedly paid Singh thousands of dollars to smuggle a family member into the U.S. Singh drove the individual to a motel in Cornwall.

“Singh bragged about smuggling over one thousand people and that [the Indian national] had nothing to worry about,” according to U.S. records.

The Indian national boarded a boat on March 4, with three other migrants. They landed on a U.S. portion of Akwesasne governed by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council. 

But there was no one there to pick them up. The tribal police found three of them and called U.S. Border Border Patrol. The fourth was found at a motel in Massena, N.Y. 

One of the migrants said he paid $5,000 and wanted to go to live with a relative in San Francisco, according to records of their arrest. Another told U.S. Border Patrol agents he paid $15,000 and he wanted to work in New York City.

 A third said he paid $7,000 US, but had no destination in mind. 

They all pleaded guilty to illegally entering into the U.S., were sentenced to time served and processed through the U.S. immigration system. 

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