A 47-year-old volunteer Surrey, B.C., soccer coach has been arrested in the United States after allegedly trying to meet a 12-year-old girl for sex.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says Kuldip (Kelly) Singh Mahal crossed the border in Blaine, Wash., Tuesday afternoon and travelled to a park in Burlington, Wash. where he had arranged to meet the girl.
'I'm a bit young and I want to learn some new things. I have never experienced the things I want to.' — Craigslist ad from U.S. agent posing as 12-year-old girl
In documents filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the agency alleges Mahal answered a posting on Craigslist from an undercover agent posing as a 12-year-old girl from northwest Washington.
"In three weeks' time, the defendant went from responding to an online posting to travelling from Canada to Washington state to meet a minor for illicit sex," said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Seattle.
"Fortunately, he was actually communicating with an undercover HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) special agent."
Mahal is charged in the U.S. with the "attempted enticement of a minor" — an offence that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years to life.
Sexual explicit messages and photos
Court documents allege Mahal sent multiple sexually explicit messages and photos of himself to the undercover special agent over a three-week period, even after being told he was communicating with a 12-year-old girl.
Investigators also state in the complaint that Mahal, in lengthy sexualized chats, repeatedly requested explicit pictures from the “girl.”
The court documents say Mahal, a facilities manager for a Vancouver tech firm, is also a volunteer coach for an under-16 boy's soccer team in Surrey.
U.S. investigators say the sting was initiated by Homeland Security Investigators in Blaine, Wash., to target individuals who were using Craigslist to meet minors for sex.
According to court documents, an ad was placed in the "casual encounters" section of the Vancouver personals entitled "Crazy and very young."
The text of the ad read, "I'm a bit young and I want to learn some new things. I have never experienced the things I want to, I am real and live in Burlington, Wash. I like to go to outlet stores at Tulalip!!"
The document alleges the ad was answered by a person using an anonymous Craigslist email identifying himself as "Jumbo Smith," who, investigators allege, they later identified as Mahal.
U.S. authorities say the investigation was conducted under Homeland Security's Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators.
Immigration authorities say 2,300 people were arrested last year alone by special agents under the initiative, and since its inception in 2003, more than 10,000 individuals have been arrested for crimes against children.
Mahal suspended as coach
The Surrey United Soccer club announced late Wednesday it was suspending Mahal as coach.
At a hastily arranged news conference, executive director Martin Foden said that Mahal, like all club personnel, had successfully cleared a criminal record check.
Foden said Mahal had been an exemplary soccer coach for 11 years.
"We do our normal due diligence with the 2,500 kids that go through our program," he said.
"It’s shocking to us, whether we’re involved in soccer or not involved in soccer, whenever we hear allegations like this. We’ve all been moms and dads and we need to support and protect our children."
Foden said he hoped media would not turn this into a soccer story. He said Mahal was simply a Surrey resident who happened to coach soccer.
He said the club didn't hear of the charge against Mahal until notified Wednesday by the media. Foden said the club is arranging meetings with the parents of the teams Mahal coached.