U.S. authorities have adopted a quieter tone in announcing that charges against a permanent resident of Canada have been dismissed following what was touted as the largest cannabis seizure in western New York district.
The June 25 seizure at the Peace Bridge, which runs between Fort Erie, Ont. and Buffalo, N.Y., involved the discovery of 9,472 pounds of cannabis with an estimated street value of US$20 million hidden inside a commercial truck. Officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) found more than 8,300 vacuum-sealed packages of suspected weed within 55 wooden pallet boxes after a non-intrusive scan of the truck bearing Ontario plates showed anomalies. Manifested as carrying storage containers, a complete physical exam was done at the Peace Bridge Cargo Facility and the cannabis found.
“This is the largest narcotics seizure recorded on the northern border and ranks 23rd in the United States, for a period covering the last five years,” CBP reported at the time. “From recognizing a shipment that needed further screening, to the identification of the anomaly during the secondary scan, to the coordination with our partners at Homeland Security Investigations, our officers are committed to intercepting these illicit drugs from being smuggled in,” Buffalo port director Jennifer De La O says in a statement.
“In just three weeks, CBP officers have prevented thousands of pounds of illicit drugs, valued at nearly $30 million, from entering our country,” U.S. Attorney James Kennedy, Jr. adds in the statement. “Because the health, safety and security of every American matters, so, too, do our borders.”
Prabjot Nagra, 26, was subsequently charged with possessing with the intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of cannabis and importation of marijuana into the U.S. For a first conviction, the first count carries not less than 10 years or more than life, and a fine not exceeding US$10 million if an individual or US$50 million if other than an individual.
Nagra, a citizen of India and permanent resident of Canada, has reportedly professed his innocence since the charges were laid.
Last week, the charges were dismissed without prejudice. That means the case is not necessarily dismissed forever and that charges could be laid again in future.
Dismissing the charges without prejudice allows “the government additional time to conduct a full forensic examination of certain electronic evidence recovered during the seizure and to permit additional steps to be taken in this ongoing transnational investigation,” notes a U.S. Attorney’s Office statement to WKBW.
It is believed “further investigative efforts will shed additional light not only on Mr. Nagra’s knowledge regarding the contents of the sealed trailer he was hauling, but also on the source and destination of the tons of marijuana it contained,” it adds.
“Today’s dismissal of all charges against Mr. Nagra was a welcome vindication for him, and points to his innocence,” assistant federal public defender Alexander Anzalone writes in an email to FreightWaves. “For a hard-working young man with no criminal history, the past two weeks in jail have been both harrowing and unnecessary,” Anzalone adds.
WKBW has reported that Nagra has since returned to Canada. According to FreightWaves, Nagra said the trailer already had a seal when it was picked up near Toronto. His employer, which FreightWaves reports is Highway Secure Transport, an interstate U.S. Department of Transportation-registered company, added that it and its driver had nothing to do with the cannabis.
The dismissal inspired a range of responses from Twitter users, from support for investigators to build the strongest case possible to those believing cannabis should not attract such time and resources.
Of course, there was also one poster who questioned whether or not the suspected cannabis was, indeed, weed.
There is no indication that’s the case, but it wouldn’t be the first time officers were left red-faced after a big “weed” seizure. In late December, New York police finally released a 106-pound shipment of hemp that it had earlier confiscated to the owner of Green Angel CBD in Brooklyn, NY.
Despite celebrating the seizure on Twitter, police later realized the US$20,000 haul was not marijuana, but its non-intoxicating cousin, hemp.
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