A Guyanese-born pilot who made headlines after he was arrested with over US$600,000 in cash he had
stashed on his jet, has pleaded guilty in a Puerto Rico court.
Captain Khamraj Lall, through his lawyer, Rafael Castro Lang, on Tuesday, filed court documents asking for a “Change of Plea Hearing”.
The lawyer said that change was due to a plea agreement with the Government. Lall will now await a hearing on his guilty plea.
Just over a week ago, Lang asked for one week extension to consider a counter-offer by US prosecutors under a plea deal.
Lall, who owns Kaylees Gas Station in Coverden, East Bank Demerara, was arrested by airport authorities in Puerto Rico in November, after his jet made a stop to refuel, on its way to Guyana.
Stashed in different parts of the plane was more than US$600,000 that Prosecutors say was not declared by Lall. He reportedly took responsibility for the cash at the time of arrest. On board were his father and another person.
The pilot, who also owns a limousine service in Guyana, had flown President Donald Ramotar on occasions on the private jet. His company, Exec Jet Club, has a private hangar at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport. There were swirling questions over the operations of the hangar and its accessibility.
Government had denied that it granted the company any special privileges
and said that the operations were in keeping with regulations. Exec. Jet has reportedly also closed its Gainesville, Florida Office because of the troubles.
In addition to charges related to bulk cash smuggling, Lall is in deep trouble with the US authorities who by law can seize properties that are linked to illegal transactions.
As Puerto Rico is a territory of the US, the country’s tax body, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), had stepped into the matter, going after 14 bank accounts, a Lexus car and two planes, including the jet that Lall used on that fateful flight.
Two weeks after he was arrested in Puerto Rico, US tax authorities, on December 8, filed a civil case in New Jersey. They were able to seize US$442,743.59 from accounts controlled by Lall and his companies. This is in addition to the US$600,000 that was found on the jet in Puerto Rico, and which is subject to seizure too.
Investigators, apparently working on information, started tracking Lall’s deposits to accounts held at Wells Fargo, Citibank and JP Morgan and found startling evidence that between April 2011 and September 2014, the pilot and family members deposited an astounding US$6,324,411.41 (G$1.3B). There were over a thousand transactions.
The IRS believes that a scheme was devised where Lall and others deliberately deposited less than US$10,000 each time in attempts not to trigger suspicion by banks which are mandated to report transactions above that amount. Lall’s wife, Nadinee, and mother Joyce, were named in the transactions.
Investigators tracking the money said that Lall and his family had properties in New Jersey, Florida and New York.
The US Government said that it is not yet requesting seizures of properties that the Lalls control in three states but intends to do so, as proceeds of the deposits were used to renovate or pay mortgages.
According to the US Government, when domestic financial institutions, including banks and money service businesses, are involved in a transaction for the payment, receipt, or transfer of United States currency in an amount greater than $10,000, the institution is required to file a currency transaction report (“CTR”) for each cash transaction, such as, by way of example, a deposit, withdrawal, exchange of currency, or other payment or transfer by, through, or to a financial institution.
“Many individuals involved in illegal activities, such as tax evasion, money laundering and narcotics trafficking, are aware of the reporting requirements and take active steps to cause financial institutions to fail to file CTRs in order to avoid detection of the movement of large amounts of cash.”
The court documents said that Lall and his family and others “structured” their payments deposit below US$10,000.
In February, Lang disclosed that a plea bargain is being actively pursued but additional time of one month is needed.
The Defence asked permission for the matter to be transferred from Puerto Rico to New Jersey for purposes of plea and sentencing.
Lall’s case has been generating much attention in Guyana, Puerto Rico and mainland US, because of the amount of cash that he was found with.
In February, the US Government filed applications in the District Court of Puerto Rico to seize the jet which was reportedly used in the illegal transport of the cash.
Assistant United States Attorney, Maritza Gonzalez, said that the forfeiture of the plane is in keeping with the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
The plane in question is a 1988 fixed wing, multi-engine Israel aircraft bearing FAA registration N822QL.
It is one of the aircrafts that Lall has been using to fly to Guyana. Also to be seized are the related aircraft maintenance log books and other records.
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