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Prominent Fremont Sikhs Arrested


Mercury News, Oct. 16, 2003

Investigators say a Fremont man allegedly pirated thousands of popular 'Bollywood' movies and strongarmed Indo-American store owners into selling his illegally copied D.V.D.s. And as part of a Tuesday raid in Hayward that smashed the pirating scam, agents also arrested a well-known and controversial member of Fremont's Sikh community on unrelated immigration charges. The first person arrested during the raid was Jai Singh, 40, was being held today in Oakland's federal jail on charges he distributed 124 illegal D.V.D.s worth about $2,600 during a five-month period ending Oct. 8. But a federal affidavit alleges that Singh pirated 'thousands' of D.V.D.s to stores all in the Bay Area and Canada. Singh likely will be recharged, officials said, when the final inventory of D.V.D.s has been counted. Singh, who listed his business as C.K. International at 27711 International Blvd. in Hayward, goes by the aliases of Balwinder Singh Virk and Ashok Pal Singh. He also has the nickname of 'Fauji.'

He has been under surveillance since June 2002 when community members alerted Fremont police to his alleged scam, according to court papers. During the investigation, Fremont police also learned Jai Singh was being tailed by a private investigator hired by Eros International - a legitimate distributor of D.V.D.s. Jai Singh used to work for Eros, but was terminated, which is when he began allegedly pirating copies from India's famed movie industry, according to a federal affidavit. Court papers allege that Jai Singh is one of several suspects allegedly pirating 'Bollywood' movies.

And as part of Tuesday's raid in Hayward, agents also took a prominent Sikh into custody. Jasjeet 'Jesse' Singh, 40, of Fremont, who is very active in the Sikh temple on Gurdwara Road, was arrested during the same raid on separate charges that he failed to show up for an immigration hearing. Jesse Singh owns Saffron Trucking at the same complex in Hayward where Jai Singh works. Jaswinder Singh - Jesse Singh's partner and the president of the Fremont Sikh temple - declined to comment. Jesse Singh is in federal custody in San Francisco. Jesse Singh and Jai Singh aren't related. Singh is a common last name among Sikh men, connoting the equality their religion emphasizes. Friends said Jesse Singh was born in Punjab and was persecuted by the Indian government. They said he didn't miss a hearing, but was only late for it. In addition, Harminder Samana, a former secretary at the Fremont Sikh temple who works nearby, also was arrested on immigration charges, but then released.

Jesse Singh also is the unofficial spokesman for one of the factions embroiled in a hotly contested lawsuit filed last year between Sikhs who are fighting to control the Fremont temple. Last year, an Alameda County judge ruled that elections must take place. Jesse Singh's faction is appealing the lower court's decision.