NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Two Indian nationals conspired with an undercover federal agent to smuggle people from Thailand to New Jersey, prosecutors said Thursday.
Nileshkumar Patel and Harsad Mehta were arrested Wednesday at Newark Liberty International Airport and were remanded into custody after a brief appearance before a judge Thursday on smuggling and conspiracy charges. Messages left seeking comment from attorneys for the men weren't immediately returned.
Patel and Mehta met with an undercover Homeland Security Investigations agent on multiple occasions in Bangkok starting in April 2014 and paid the agent $35,000 to $50,000 to have six Indians smuggled into New Jersey even though they didn't have legal clearance to come to America, Special Agent Douglas Doherty said in a criminal complaint.
Patel was involved in all six cases, and Mehta in four, prosecutors said.
The sting operation began in June 2013 when an HSI investigation revealed a smuggling operation that was "attempting to find methods to illegally smuggle aliens from India to the United States," Doherty said. The investigation found that the organization recruited Indians and others to pay them to get them to the United States.
Patel began contacting the undercover agent, whom he believed was a smuggler, telling him he wanted to "discuss sending 'packages' to the United States," Doherty said. Patel later told the agent that he had been smuggling people into the United States since 1998, Doherty said.
The undercover agent met on various occasions with the men in Bangkok from April 2014 to January 2015, Doherty said. There, prosecutors said, they agreed to pay a $10,000 down payment for each individual with the rest promised to be paid when the people arrived in the U.S.