After a 15-month joint investigation between the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and police in Alberta, three suspected big-time Alberta cocaine suppliers were charged last week.

Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams, or ALERT, made the charges public Tuesday.

A fourth Calgary man was arrested after a traffic stop just outside of Las Vegas in October 2012 where a drug-sniffing dog led to the discovery of $4.5 US million worth of cocaine, said ALERT’s Mike Tucker.

The value of cocaine was estimated by Las Vegas police. In Canada it would have fetched much more, says Tucker.

The drugs were hidden under a hydraulic setup in the flatbed of a pickup truck — a system that could have cost $50,000, he said.

"To the naked eye, and even to law enforcement, it’s very difficult to detect."

The driver, who will be tried in the U.S., was a "mule," said Tucker. A partner investigation between ALERT and the DEA led to the "ring leaders" — the three other Calgary men.  

The men, all in their 30s, have been charged with conspiracy to import cocaine, conspiracy to traffic cocaine, possession, trafficking and possession of proceeds of crime. 

"[It] sounds like something out of a movie script or an episode of Breaking Bad," Tucker said.

'Economies of scale'

"It’s a reality of what ALERT encounters on a regular basis of enterprising individuals, such as the three men who are accused, that will go to any length to bring cocaine across the border into Canada and take advantages of the economies of scale."

It appears the three men had no criminal history and no ties to any organized crime groups, Tucker said.

Because of its proximity to the border, Calgary is a hub for cocaine in Canada. The three are believed to be major cocaine distributors for southern Alberta, said Tucker.

“It’s no secret that the cocaine originates in Mexico — it is controlled by the cartels,” said Tucker, adding though that’s generally the case, they don’t know yet where this cocaine came from.

"A kilo of cocaine in Tijuana, Mexico, will go for between $6,000 to $12,000. When that crosses the border into Los Angeles — which is the North American hub for cocaine — it will go for $20,000 to $28,000," Tucker said.

"By the time that hits the streets in Calgary, that same cocaine is going for around $50,000. So you can see the profit motives around that trade."

The figures are in Canadian dollars, said Tucker.