A Surrey, B.C., Liberal, who is running for re-election, is facing some tough questions after it was revealed that he recently wrote a letter of support for a convicted drug trafficker.

Federal Liberal Sukh Dhaliwal says he only met Ranjit Cheema a few times. Now he regrets not checking out Cheema's dark past before singing his praises.

On July 9, Dhaliwal wrote a letter on House of Commons stationary to U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson.

It reads "I have been approached by Ranjit Singh Cheema's father to write a letter of recommendation. I have no doubt that if he is given support and direction, he will be a strong active member of his community in the years to come."

Cheema was extradited to California in January for his role in a huge heroin and hash smuggling ring. He was sentenced this week to five years in prison.

Dhaliwal says he wrote the letter because he was convinced that after meeting him at community events, Cheema had cleaned up his act.

"We have to focus on causes of crime so people can have a chance to rehabilitate, Dhaliwal said.

When asked what proof he had that Cheema was rehabilitated, Dhaliwal replied:

"It's my judgement call, I talked to him, his parents and to a few people that he really wants to change himself."

But Dhaliwal said that did not talk to police or law enforcement officials to check with them. "No I didn't,'' he said.

According to police, Cheema is a well-known gangster, and long-considered a rival of Bindy Johal, a notorious gang leader who was killed with a shot in the back of the head at a nightclub in 1998.

Cheema was at a wedding when Johal's bodyguard Mike Brar was gunned down two years later.

Police say Cheema was active in gang activities right up until his extradition.

"He was involved. During his extradition proceedings he was involved in a criminal lifestyle either by himself or with crime groups within the Lower Mainland,'' said Shinder Kirk of the Integrated Gang Task Force.

When Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion was asked whether or not he thought the letter was appropriate, Dion replied, "I'm not sure you have a good interpretation of what happened. He was supporting this man, not exactly the story you mentioned.

Whether the controversy will hurt Dhaliwal's political career remains to be seen.

He's campaigning for re-election in the riding of Newton/North Delta.

See Dhaliwal's Home Page for further information.

Dhaliwal now admits he made a mistake.

"You did ask me did I consult with police at that time? In hindsight should I have? Yes."

With a report by CTV British Columbia's Jina You