- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - Two Canadian men have been charged with smuggling people from Pakistan, India and other countries across the northern border into Washington state.

A federal grand jury indicted Mohinder “Paul” Chawla and Terry Franklin Bens on Wednesday with three counts of illegally helping people enter the country at a border crossing near the town of Lynden and one count of conspiracy to smuggle people without legal documentation into the U.S.

Officials say Chawla led the smuggling ring and Bens was the guide. Bens is in custody and a warrant has been issued for Chawla’s arrest.

Chawla was indicted in similar charges in 2011 and a warrant was issued, but he was never arrested, according to court records. A complaint filed in the Bens case said he had been involved in human smuggling for five years. Bens’ lawyer, federal public defender Jesse Cantor, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

An agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in the Bens complaint that they received a report in May of a possible border crossing near Lynden. Agents found a trail heading south and located five people walking through a field. The group consisted of a man from Pakistan, three from China and Bens. The Pakistani said he paid $3,500 for help getting into the U.S.

Bens told the agents that he was conducting a “test run” for a future hitchhiking trip to Belize when he ran into the others. But when they checked his cellphone, they found the phone number for Chawla, who was wanted for smuggling. Agents sent Bens back to Canada and told him not to return.

But in November, a similar scenario occurred, the agent said.

Acting on a tip, agents found four adults and an infant about 500 yards south of the border. Two were from Bangladesh, one from India and the fourth was identified as Bens, the agent said. Bens again said he was practicing his hitchhiking trip to Belize when he ran into the others.

The Indian woman said her landlord in British Columbia connected her with a smuggler to help her cross the border. She was told to meet a Pakistani man at Safeway. He took her to a doughnut shop where she met a man from Punjabi and another named “Terry,” the agent said. She said she paid $5,000 for the trip. The agent said the woman identified Bens in a photo line-up as one of the smugglers.

One of the Bangali travelers said he paid an unknown Indian man $17,000 to smuggle his family to the U.S. He identified Chawla as the man who took the money and Bens as their guide.

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Follow Martha Bellisle on Twitter at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle


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