Politics, Panthic, Community

Gurdwara Trustee Arrested in FBI Sting

By Anju Kaur | November 19, 2010

Ravinder Kaur Melhi and Amrik Singh Melhi own “numerous liquor stores in Maryland,” court records say. They are accused of bribing police officers to distribute untaxed alcohol and cigarettes in Maryland and Virginia. Both were charged with conspiracy to commit extortion, which carries a maximum of 20 years imprisonment. 
A U.S. District Court judge, in Greenbelt, Maryland, on Tuesday also ordered detention for the couple because they were considered a flight risk. They are being held in an undisclosed location pending the next court appearance.
Court documents describe how Amrik Singh, 51, allegedly conspired with off-duty police officers, paying them to protect and transport the goods. Ravinder Kaur’s role was mentioned at the detention hearing.
Both Ravinder Kaur, 49, and her husband were heard bribing public officials on wiretaps, said Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland. Federal officers also found $400,000 in cash at their Clarksville, Maryland, home, she told SikhNN. These details were presented at the hearing.
Gurdwara officials said they knew that the couple owned liquor stores. Many of the sangat members that were contacted for this report also said they knew about their businesses. 
Avtar Singh, the gurdwara’s public relations officer, said he had no comment. But Parminder Singh Ahuja, chairman of the board, told SikhNN that Ravinder Kaur has been a trustee for the past six years. 
“They own several liquor stores and other investments,” he said. According to the gurdwara constitution, Ravinder Kaur can only be removed from the board if she is convicted, he added. Amrik Singh, who does not keep a Sikh identity of kesh and dastaar, is not a member of the gurdwara.
Ravinder Kaur, Amrik Singh and five others, including two police officers, were involved in the scheme, which began in or before July 2009, according to court records. All were indicted.
“Amrik Singh Melhi and others would provide things of value, including money, to public officials… in return for using their official authority and influence to ensure the safe transport and distribution of untaxed cigarettes and alcohol in Maryland and Virginia and official acts involving the enforcement of state and federal laws…,” the indictment says.
These arrests are related to a larger corruption crackdown with the arrest Friday of Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson and his wife. They are charged with tampering with and destroying evidence, as agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrived at their Mitchellville, Maryland, home with a search warrant.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not made public how the two cases are related.
In the Melhi case, if they are convicted, the government will seize assets obtained as a result of the alleged crime, from all seven defendants. Court records list 26 properties, 13 vehicles, 84 bank accounts in four banks, and $3.5 million in cash.