A volunteer Surrey, B.C., soccer coach has pleaded guilty to a federal sex crime in the U.S. after being caught trying to meet a 12-year-old girl for sex in a sting operation.
Kuldip (Kelly) Singh Mahal, 47, was arrested in February 2015, after crossing the Canada-U.S. border and travelling to a park in Burlington, Wash., where he had arranged to meet the girl — who turned out to be an undercover agent.
According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice, Mahal answered an online posting from the undercover agent, who was posing as a 12-year-old girl from northwest Washington, in January 2015.
As part of his plea agreement, the release says, Mahal admits sending her a photo of his upper body and expressing interest in a sexual relationship, even after the undercover agent said she was 12 years old.
"In fact, Mahal sent sexually explicit photos of himself and repeatedly requested the 'girl' send sexually explicit photos of herself back to him … and engaged in lengthy sexualized chats via text message with the 'girl,'" said the release.
Mahal was 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.
The B.C. man pleaded guilty of travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor, a U.S. justice department spokeswoman said Tuesday. His plea was entered in front of Judge Brian Tsuchida in U.S. district court in Seattle.
Under the terms of the plea agreement the defence and prosecutors will recommend a sentence of between 6½ years and nine years in prison. Mahal will also have to register as a sex offender and may face lifetime supervision.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, Mahal will now undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation before sentencing, which is set to take place on April 1.
U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik will not be bound by the recommendations from lawyers at sentencing, the news release said, noting that he can choose to impose "any sentence up to the maximum of 30 years in prison."
'Crazy and very young'
The court documents say Mahal, then a facilities manager for a Vancouver tech firm, was also a volunteer coach for an under-16 boy's soccer team in Surrey, B.C. Surrey United Soccer club has since suspended him.
When Mahal was arrested, U.S. investigators said 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 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.