A federal jury has indicted two Canadian men for smuggling people into the United States from Canada crossing near the Lynden border station.
On January 7, prosecutors charged Mohinder (Paul) Chawla and Terry Franklin Bens with three counts of illegally helping people enter the country and one count of conspiracy to smuggle people without legal documentation. Bens is in custody and a warrant is out for Chawla’s arrest.
Officials allege that Chawla was the ringleader, helping people illegally enter the country while Bens acted as a guide. The complaint filed in Bens’ case stated he had been involved with illegal smuggling for five years.
Last May, border patrol agents caught Bens while he was escorting four illegal immigrants through a field near the Lynden border crossing. One of those arrested said Bens had charged him more than $3,500 to take him across the line. In that instance, Bens was not charged or taken into custody, but ordered to return to Canada and not come back.
In November, agents caught Bens again about 500 yards south of the border, this time escorting three adults and an infant. In both May and November, Bens told officials he had been practicing hitchhiking for an upcoming trip to Belize, and ran into the others by chance. During a search of his cell phone, agents discovered Chawla’s number. Chawla was already suspected of running a smuggling ring. Authorities indicted him in 2011 but he was never arrested.
An East Indian woman apprehended with Bens in November said her landlord in B.C. put her in contact with Chawla and Bens to help her cross the border. The two allegedly charged $5,000. Another group, a family originally from Bangladesh, said they paid $17,000 for Chawla and Bens’ services.