Officials announce $13M cross-border drug bust
Published Tuesday, March 24, 2009 3:52PM EDT
RCMP and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials have arrested eight Canadians and one American in connection with a planned cross-border exchange of marijuana and cocaine.
Police allege that a smuggling ring was using helicopters to carry B.C. marijuana into the United States, where it was traded for cocaine.
The RCMP's South-East District Drug Section and Integrated Border Enforcement Team, alongside DEA officials, seized two helicopters, 83 kilograms of cocaine, 340 kilograms of marijuana, nine kilograms of ecstasy and a half-dozen weapons in the operation.
"This international investigation reveals just how seamless American and Canadian law enforcement work together in an effort to combat Criminal Organizations operating between the two countries," RCMP Staff Sergeant Dave Goddard said Tuesday in a statement.
CTV's Stephen Smart said that police put the street value of the drugs at about $13 million.
But he added that police, "have no illusions that this is going to put a dent in the problem" of the cross-border drug trade.
Police have linked an increase of violence in Western Canada, particularly around metro Vancouver, due to a massive drug war in Mexico.
The investigation, known as Operation Blade Runner, began when police in Utah found 83 kg of cocaine during a routine traffic stop. One Canadian and one American were arrested at that time.
Information gleaned after the arrest led investigators to a site in the wilderness near Colville, Wash.
Authorities say that drug traffickers have started using helicopters as sea and land routes have become more difficult to use.
On Feb. 23, authorities arrested a 24-year-old male from Revelstoke, B.C., in the Colville National Forest for attempting to off-load 193 kilograms of marijuana. The man was using a helicopter that had been reported stolen to RCMP officers in Malakwa, B.C.
The suspect was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and was kept in custody at the Spokane County Jail. The suspect hanged himself in jail on Feb. 27.
Further information led officials to believe that a second helicopter was moving marijuana, as well as large quantities of ecstasy, into the U.S.
Officials intercepted that helicopter in Idaho. Police arrested a 29-year-old man from Kelowna and seized 78 kilograms of marijuana.
U.S. officials notified Canadian authorities, who were able to locate the site in Nelson, B.C., from where the helicopter took off. Two men from Chilliwack, B.C., were arrested when they returned to the site to pick up drugs.
At that time, RCMP officers seized another 68 kilos of marijuana and nine kilograms (approximately 40,000 tablets) of ecstasy.
The ring further unravelled in early March, when an RCMP search warrant on two hotel rooms in Nelson yielded a 40 calibre handgun.
In a separate search warrant, RCMP officers arrested the Malakwa man, while another search warrant yielded several firearms and the arrest of a 35-year-old man from Salmon Arm, B.C.
Another man, who had been on parole at the time, was arrested in connection with the investigation. His parole has been revoked and he is still in police custody.
Three of the suspects have been released while they await court dates. One man is in custody awaiting extradition to the U.S. on unrelated drug charges. The man arrested in Idaho remains in federal custody, while the two men arrested in Utah are also still in custody in that state.
Authorities say they believe the alleged smuggling ring was in operation for about a year.