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|January 5, 1999||
Rags-to-riches Sikh businessman charged with murder
An Indian immigrant who went from pumping petrol in The Bronx to owning a chain of 50 service stations built his empire on a cold-blooded combination of fraud and violence, a prosecutor charged yesterday at a federal death penalty trial.
Gurmeet Singh Dhinsa "was more than just a ruthless businessman", assistant United States attorney Catherine Friesen told a Brooklyn jury in an opening statement. "In fact, he was a ruthless killer as well... Anybody who got in his way was dealt with severely."
Dhinsa, 36, of Brooklyn, was arrested in 1997 and indicted on racketeering charges alleging that he ran a criminal enterprise by rigging petrol pumps to rip off motorists, evading taxes, and using deadly force to protect his turf. If convicted of the most serious charges -- ordering the contract killing of two men -- Dhinsa could be sentenced to death.
Defence attorney Gerald Shargel portrayed his client as an enterprising Sikh from rural Punjab in India. After arriving in the US in 1982, Dhinsa became a multimillionaire by scraping up enough money to lease one gas station, then boldly opening others in the city's toughest neighbourhoods, Shargel said.
"He did not make his living as a gangster," the lawyer said as his client sat expressionless.
At its peak, Dhinsa's City Gas Corp had 51 stations in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, and employed hundreds. Annual revenues topped $60 million, according to authorities.
But Dhinsa's success was tainted by trouble. The city's consumer affairs office repeatedly cited him for overcharging customers and he has convictions in the US for assault and gun possession.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation began investigating him in 1997 as the City Gas operation allegedly turned more violent. Prosecutors now allege that Dhinsa ordered the 1995 kidnapping of an employee he thought was stealing from him.
The employee never was found. When his brother later confronted Dhinsa, the businessman allegedly had him killed.
Another slaying in 1997 began as what appeared to be a traffic dispute between a livery cab driver, a former City Gas employee named Satinderjit Singh who was co-operating with investigators, and the occupants of a white van on the streets of Queens. Witnesses said a gunman stepped out of the van, pumped eight bullets into Singh, then calmly returned to the vehicle.
A City Gas security guard and another employee were arrested shortly after the shooting.
Authorities say the men, Marvin Dodson and Walter Samuels, have admitted Dhinsa paid them to kill Singh.
Shargel told the jury he would prove the men -- who are expected to testify against their former boss -- "have told lie, after lie, after lie" to avoid facing the death penalty themselves.
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