LOS ANGELES — An Arleta man was sentenced Wednesday to five years in federal prison for his role in a black-market “hawala” money laundering scheme that transferred about $4.5 million on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel and its drug trafficking affiliates.
Sucha Singh, 54, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder to serve three years of supervised release following his 63-month prison sentence. Singh was allowed to remain free pending a Jan. 17 self-surrender date.
“I recognize this may be a one-time offense, but hundreds of thousands of dollars were moved around — and it was drug money,” the judge said from the bench. “There have to be consequences.”
Arguing for a sentence in the three-year range, defense attorney Michael Grahn said that his client’s “religiosity” and need to wear Sikh apparel “puts him in greater risk in custody.”
Singh pleaded guilty two years ago in downtown Los Angeles to charges contained in a three-count federal indictment that charged him and 21 other defendants with conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.
The illegal scheme spanned the world and involved operatives in Canada, India, the United States and Mexico, who laundered drug trafficking proceeds generated from multi-pound sales of narcotics for and on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel and others. The laundered cash was either transported to the Sinaloa Cartel as profits or reinvested in additional drugs to be sold and distributed in the U.S. and Canada, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Speaking through a Punjabi translator, Singh asked the court to forgive him, telling the judge that his family depends on him.
“I made a big mistake,” the defendant said. “I will never make this kind of mistake in the future.”
The 2014 indictment specifically outlined the use of a hawala network, which prosecutors said transferred more than $4.5 million in narcotics proceeds and was involved in the trafficking of 64 pounds of cocaine and nearly 90 pounds of methamphetamine.
Hawala — the Arabic word for change or transform — is an international underground money remittance system based on trust among its participants that allows financial transactions without leaving a paper trail. The necessary trust and long-established connections between brokers are typically based on familial, ethnic, religious, regional and cultural grounds.
Singh’s operation moved “just incredible amounts of cash” around, Snyder said, adding that the money “was not being transferred for conventional purposes.”