8 busted in cross-border helicopter drug-smuggling operation
Eight people face charges after police broke up a major cross-border drug smuggling operation that used helicopters to fly B.C. bud and ecstasy to remote American landing pads and swap it for cocaine and cash.
Altogether police seized about 340 kg of marijuana, 83 kg of cocaine and 240,000 ecstasy tablets, valued between $10 million and $15 million, plus a significant amount of cash, guns, two helicopters and other equipment, officials from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the RCMP said at a joint news conference in Seattle on Tuesday morning.
The operation was first uncovered when U.S. police stopped a vehicle in Utah during a routine traffic stop and found 83 kg of cocaine inside, police said. An American and a Canadian man were arrested and charged, the RCMP said in a statement released Tuesday.
Information from that bust led police to a remote helicopter landing pad cut in the forest near Colville, Wash. There they arrested a 24-year-old man from Revelstoke, B.C., who they say was attempting to drop off 193 kg of marijuana using a helicopter.
CBC News later reported the pilot was Samuel Brown, who was charged and held at the Spokane County Jail, where he reportedly hanged himself on Feb. 27.
A week later, police learned of a second helicopter delivery heading to Idaho with marijuana and ecstasy on board. There they arrested Jeremy Snow, a 29-year-old Kelowna, B.C., man, and seized 78 kg of marijuana. That bust led to the arrest of five other men in several communities throughout southeast B.C.
So far the names of the suspects and the specific charges they face have not been released. Prosecutors are in the process of sorting out charges and determining whether any of the suspects could face extradition, officials said.
U.S. DEA officials said they were concerned that if the Canadian suspects are convicted in Canada they will face far lighter sentences than the 10-year minimum sentences they would face if convicted in the U.S.
The RCMP said they believed Lower Mainland gangs were involved in the smuggling operations.