British Columbia

Criminal cook claims shellfish altered fingerprints

A cook who claimed years of handling shellfish left him with untraceable fingerprints has admitted to smuggling three Chinese women across the Canada-U.S. border.

Ying Hao Li faces a possible 6-month sentence for guiding 3 Chinese women across U.S. border

B.C.'s legendary spot prawns are tasty but they can be tough on the fingers. A Vancouver cook claims years of handling shellfish altered his fingerprints. (Spot Prawn Festival)

It may sound fishy, and Ying Hao Li is the first to admit it.

The Vancouver cook told the U.S. authorities who nabbed him guiding three Chinese women across the B.C. border in January that years of handling clams, prawns and shrimp had left him with untraceable fingerprints.

That allegedly explains why U.S. Border Patrol agents were unable to match the 48-year-old's prints to any on record despite a previous conviction for drug trafficking.

"[His] fingerprints had been altered to the extent that a fingerprint search through an electronic database could not be accomplished," reads the detention order filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

"[Li] represented this was due to repeated instances of eating shellfish."

'Full-length green chest waders'

There's not much hope of lobster in Li's foreseeable future after he pleaded guilty last week to one count of bringing in an alien for private financial gain.

He'll be sentenced in June, but according to U.S. court documents, prosecutors have agreed to seek a sentence of five months and one week as part of a plea agreement. Li had faced a mandatory minimum of five years.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents apprehended Ying Hao Li in January minutes after he guided three Chinese women across the border. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

Two border agents were on foot patrol about two kilometres west of the border crossing in Lynden, Wash., on the evening of Jan. 28 when they saw a silver minivan driving slowly along the Canadian side of the international boundary.

The vehicle stopped to let out four people who began walking single file into the U.S..

"The group appeared to be moving in unison," according to an American indictment.

"The group was being cautious about the amount of noise they made. If one of them broke a branch or made any other type of noise, they would all stop for several minutes."

The agents moved in after about 30 minutes.

"The four individuals stopped, put their hands on their heads and got down on the ground," the indictment says.

"The agents noticed that they were all wearing full-length green chest waders with black jackets and backpacks. The individual in the lead position was also carrying a stick that he used to separate branches as they moved through the wooded area."

A man named 'John'

Two of the women clammed up, but a third told investigators that they were Chinese nationals who flew from China to Vancouver where they shared a hotel room before being taken to the border to meet Li.

Li admitted that he had accepted cash to smuggle the women into the U.S. He claimed he was unemployed and had recently lost $1,000 at a casino when a contact named "John" offered to help him.

"I was to be paid $500 by John to smuggle these three Chinese nationals into the United States," Li told officers in a statement.

"John picked me up at my residence in Vancouver. We then proceeded to another destination to pick up the three Chinese national women."

Li claimed John also provided the group with the plastic waders and a broomstick to ward off "spiky plants."

According to court documents, Li moved to Canada with his parents when he was 19. He was convicted of selling drugs 16 years ago and lives in a basement suite with his wife and two young children.

He had planned to start a job at a new Vancouver seafood restaurant at the beginning of February.

His wife claims the boss told her Li should call him when he's once again in a position to shuck some shells.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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