MAMOSA Report — A man has pleaded guilty to helping smuggle dozens of people from Pakistan and Afghanistan into the United States by way of an arduous trek through Brazil and other parts of Latin America.
Sharafat Ali Khan, 32, described by prosecutors as a Pakistani national and resident of Brazil, pleaded guilty Wednesday in a federal court to his role in the scheme, reported AP.
Khan pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and to human smuggling for profit.
Prosecutors said Khan worked with others to bring an unspecified number of people from Pakistan and elsewhere through Brazil and Central America into the United States by planes, buses and on foot.
He served as a facilitator for dozens of people from Pakistan who contacted him in Brazil, paid $5,000 to $12,000 each, then walked through the Colombian jungle or traveled north by bus, foot and plane, according to court filings, The Washington Post reported.
Khan reportedly managed safe houses for the travelers and arranged for people in other countries to serve as escorts on different legs of the route.
He told prosecutors the voyage included long hikes through the remote tropical forest of Panama’s Darien Gap which was described as “a dangerous, wild tropical forest area” stretching approximately 100 miles that cannot be traveled by vehicles.
“The average traveler took approximately nine months to get from Brazil all the way to the United States, the court records stated.
The charge against Khan carries a statutory maximum of five years in prison. But in a plea deal, both sides agreed that federal sentencing guidelines called for a range of 24 to 46 months and prosecutors agreed to seek no more than 37 months at sentencing July 6 before U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton.
“Are you entering this plea of guilty because you are in fact guilty?” Walton asked Khan, who appeared in court in prison orange clothing.
“Yes sir,” said Khan.
Khan, who also used the pseudonym “Dr. Nakib,” was arrested July 14 in Washington after being extradited from Qatar, according to court documents. The circumstances of his arrest were not disclosed.
“Khan is a well-known alien smuggler operating in Brazil,” Special Agent Frank Iervasi of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a June 3 law enforcement affidavit filed to support Khan’s arrest. The affidavit said the characterization of Khan’s reputation was relayed to law enforcement officials by another alien smuggler.
Khan’s indictment cited only six smuggled individuals, but he allegedly was identified by name or photograph by about 81 foreign nationals who said he was the person who arranged their travel from Brazil between March 2014 through about May 2016, Iervasi wrote.
In court Wednesday, Khan and the government stipulated in plea documents that the actual number of individuals was between 25 and 99.
The June indictment, unsealed Feb. 21, alleged that Khan worked with at least three other unnamed conspirators, some of whose identities are known to a federal grand jury in the District.
The affidavit said the general route used by the smuggling operation went from Pakistan to Dubai, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.