Sheriff’s office gets nearly $1M in B.C. cocaine cash

The sheriff’s office in Bakersfield, Calif. is nearly a million dollars richer this week, thanks to money seized from B.C. drug smugglers.

United States attorney Benjamin Wagner and Carl Beckett, of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Bakersfield, handed over a cheque for $968,694.14 Wednesday to Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood.

The money came from a cocaine case involving two Metro Vancouver men.

Davinder Singh, 42, of Delta and Thai Hoang Nguyen, 33, of Surrey, were recently sentenced for their role in a cocaine-for-cash conspiracy with two Californians.

Singh, who is cooperating with U.S. officials, got five years May 3.

He pleaded in a letter to the court "to have the opportunity to go back to my family."

Nguyen was sentenced to eight years and was described by an associate as "a big fish" who wanted to bring 100 kilos of coke a week into Canada.

The pair worked with two Californians to get their hands on 85 kilos of coke back in September 2008.

As a member of the group asked around about cocaine purchases, someone tipped the DEA, which started an undercover sting.

An official with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office posed as the cocaine supplier and met with the drug gang and a mysterious Canadian named "Bobby," who has not been charged.

Police followed the Canadians and their American associates – Sokha Bhopal and Vath Lim – as they arranged and completed a cocaine-for-cash deal worth $1,487,500 US.

"As the negotiations continued, it became apparent that Nguyen was the primary individual attempting to purchase cocaine," special agent Trent O’Neill said in court documents.

"Nguyen indicated he was having difficulty locating his ‘accountant’ to obtain the money."

When Nguyen got his cash, the DEA seized $1,253,500 the group was carrying in two suitcases. Another $106,806 was obtained from a bank account linked to the gang.

The DEA decided to forfeit most of the cash to the local sheriff’s office for its assistance in the case.

Wagner said this week that asset forfeiture has become one of the most powerful tools for crippling drug-trafficking organizations.

"If you take away their cash, you can effectively stem the flow of drugs," Wagner said. "This case demonstrated how effective federal and local law enforcement can be when we work as a team. I commend the Kern County Sheriff’s Department and the DEA for their outstanding work in this case."

The B.C.-led group was snared by the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force, an inter-agency program investigating and prosecuting the most significant drug-trafficking organizations throughout the U.S.

Nguyen’s lawyer Richard Troberman argued his client was just a bit player who flew down to California to vouch for "Bobby," whom he had never met.

Troberman said U.S. law enforcement agencies preyed on vulnerable traffickers at the time of the sting.

"In the fall of 2008, the cocaine supply dried up along the I-5 corridor. Drug traffickers became more desperate, and less cautious, in their efforts to obtain product, and sought out new sources of supply," Troberman said in court documents.

But U.S. attorney Karen Escobar argued in court filings that Nguyen had a major role.

"The ability to obtain over $1.2 million in cash to finance a large cocaine transaction suggests that this transaction was not Nguyen’s first," she said.

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