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Ontario man pleads guilty to smuggling cannabis into US by helicopter

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A Canadian man has pleaded guilty to importing cannabis into the US, a crime with a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York says that 28-year-old Raminderjit Assi of Hamilton, Ontario, along with a second person, flew their first flight into the US from Canada with cannabis in April 2019

The two landed in Beaver Island Park on Grand Island, NY, a 950-acre park just across from the Canadian border, with 49 kilograms of cannabis. US Border Patrol says they then located the cannabis in four red duffle bags.  

At the time, agents reported seeing a helicopter flying unusually low and hovering over the parking lot of the park.

As part of the investigation, authorities used radar data to conclude that Assi and his partner turned off the transponder on the helicopter, failed to check in with the required towers, and failed to submit a required flight plan. This data came from the US Federal Aviation Administration and the US Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations, as well as Nav Canada, a privately run, not-for-profit corporation that owns and operates Canada’s civil air navigation system.

They also located surveillance footage from a helipad in Canada that the two individuals flew from, which showed them preparing the flight, as well as taking off and landing after the incident on Beaver Island occurred.

Sentencing is scheduled for October 16, 2023.

US seizures of Canadian cannabis are not uncommon. Large seizures increased significantly while the US/Canadian border was closed to non-essential traffic during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While there were around 135,000 kg seized at this border in the fiscal years of 2020 and 2021, only 23,000 kilograms were seized in 2022, and about 13,000 so far for the fiscal year 2023 (beginning October 2022), with nearly 10,000 kg of that being seized in March, April and May 2023.


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