Authorities have dismantled a drug-smuggling operation they say involved large quantities of narcotics coming into Los Angeles from Mexico before being distributed in the U.S. and brought into Canada by longhaul truckers.
The cross-border operation dubbed “Operation Dead Hand” saw 19 people charged in two U.S. federal indictments for their alleged roles in the organized crime syndicate, including Roberto Scoppa, a Montrealer alleged by authorities to be a large-scale Canadian trafficker and Italian Mafia figure.
“This conspiracy spanned three countries and involved drug suppliers connected to cartels in Mexico, drug distributors and brokers in Los Angeles, Canadian truck drivers and a network that exported drugs into Canada, and even an associate of the Italian Mafia in Montreal,” U.S. attorney Martin Estrada told a news conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
A total of 10 people were arrested, including five from Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. Arrest and search warrants were executed in Montreal, Toronto and Calgary as well as in Texas, Florida and California.
The RCMP said in a news release the Canadians arrested will face extradition to the United States to stand trial.
According to U.S. authorities, Scoppa, 55, is alleged to have bought massive quantities of cocaine and other drugs on a wholesale basis. In addition to Scoppa, the Mounties arrested Ivan Gravel Gonzalez, 32, of Trois-Rivières, Que., Ayush Sharma, 25, and Guramrit Sidhu, 60, of Brampton, Ont., and Subham Kumar, 29, of Calgary.
Estrada said one of the indictments says Sidhu allegedly purchased kilograms of methamphetamine from suppliers in Mexico and Los Angeles.
“He then operated a network of truck drivers. They would use longhaul semi-trucks to move those drugs up through the United States and into Canada,” Estrada said.
Gonzalez, who is listed as a resident of Montreal and the Dominican Republic in documents, is alleged to be part of Sidhu’s exportation team. Sidhu, also known as “King,” is charged with one count of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise and is described as having held “a position of organizer, supervisor and manager.”
The group allegedly used Canadian “handlers” and “dispatchers” who would travel to Los Angeles for short periods of time. The “handlers” would co-ordinate the pickup and delivery of the shipments of cocaine and methamphetamine using Canada-bound trucks.
The transportation was co-ordinated by a network of drivers working with dozens of trucking companies who made numerous border crossings from the United States to Canada via the Detroit Windsor Tunnel, the Buffalo Peace Bridge and the Blue Water Bridge, authorities said.
Sharma and Kumar are truck drivers. The allegations have not been tested in court.
The indictments allege the network trafficked approximately 845 kilograms of methamphetamine, 951 kilograms of cocaine, 20 kilograms of fentanyl and four kilograms of heroin, with a wholesale value of between US$16 million and US$28 million — a number that goes up exponentially in Canada.
Estrada said a kilogram of methamphetamine in Canada could sell for up to 20 times more than what it would fetch in Los Angeles.
“With this takedown, we’ve eliminated a major funnel of drugs into our country and also into Canada,” Estrada said.
The arrests underscore the need for co-operation among law enforcement to combat an international problem. “It also shows that at the upper echelons and drug trafficking organizations, the people pulling the strings are sophisticated organized criminals,” Estrada added.
The RCMP said in a statement the Canadian seizures included $940,000 in cash, 70 kilograms of cocaine and four kilograms of heroin.
“As the world becomes more interconnected, organized crime groups continue to evolve and expand internationally, seeking more direct access to lucrative markets,” RCMP Chief Supt. Mathieu Bertrand told reporters in Los Angeles.
“However, by continuing to work together on numerous cross-border initiatives, the RCMP and U.S. law enforcement agencies can make a difference.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2024.
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