U.S. law enforcement has been investigating the possible involvement of the head of Six Nations tobacco company Grand River Enterprises and a director of the Big Bee Convenience Store chain in a large marijuana growing operation in northern California.
A search warrant affidavit from a federal enforcement agency in the U.S. says it has reason to believe Jerry Montour of Hamilton, CEO of Grand River Enterprises, as the financier of an operation near Alturas, Calif.
According to the affidavit, a police informant also said that Rami Reda supervised the day-to-day operations of one of the two sites, located on two reservations in northeast California. The Hamilton Spectator cited this as the same Rami Reda who is director of dozens of Big Bee stores. Reda is also a recent member of the Hamilton Police Services chief's citizens advisory committee, a board member of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario Convenience Stores Association.
No charges laid
While no charges have been laid, Hamilton Police said on Thursday that after a conversation with Reda, he is no longer a member of the chief's advisory committee. Police say the decision for Reda to step down was a joint one.
"The Hamilton Police Service has been in contact with Mr. Reda and it was mutually agreed that Mr. Reda would no longer be a member of the Chief's Advisory Committee in order to avoid any distractions from the important work of the committee," said spokesperson Catherine Martin in an email.
The affidavit for a search warrant from a drug enforcement special agent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs details the allegations used to enable searches on the properties. The raids led to federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration seizing about 12,000 marijuana plants and more than 50 kilograms of processed marijuana, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The affidavit and statement say the operation was at the XL Ranch reservation in Modoc County and the territory of a five-member aboriginal tribe called Alturas Indian Rancheria, which despite its size, operates the Desert Rose Casino.
Police say the cultivation facility on Alturas Indian Rancheria tribal land was at the event centre, about 91 metres from the casino. The facility on the XL Ranch reservation had 40 new greenhouse structures, each capable of accommodating about 1,000 marijuana plants. Another gabled-roof structure boosted the capacity by 50 per cent.
'Third-party foreign national'
The investigation is ongoing, federal law enforcement officials say in the statement.
"The investigation to date indicates both operations may have been financed by a third-party foreign national," it reads.
According to the affidavit from Charles Turner, a special agent with the division of drug enforcement in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a police informant identified Montour as the investor and financier at the event centre site and the XL ranch site.
Turner alleges that the informant said Montour had been on site in March, where he spoke to workers who constructed infrastructure for the facility and thanked them for their work.
Informant cited in warrant
Investigators showed the informant a photo of Montour from the internet to identify him, the affidavit says. It identifies Montour as the 58-year-old CEO of Grand River Enterprises, which sells cigarettes under the names Sago, Putters, DK's and Golden Leaf.
As for Reda, investigators say in the affidavit that they stopped him as he drove in a rented vehicle in northern California on May 5. Reda had marijuana in the vehicle, the affidavit says, but didn't have ID or a California Medical Marijuana Recommendation Card. It says Reda told the officers that he was taking care of the construction at the two sites.
Neither Montour nor Reda could be reached for comment by CBC News on Thursday, nor could Montour's lawyer.
But Reda told the Spectator that he wouldn't be involved in anything illegal, and that some of the information was inaccurate.
Montour's lawyer Len Violi, quoted in the Spectator, described the operation as a legal one for medical marijuana, and that the investigators had overstepped their bounds with their investigation on sovereign lands.
Violi wouldn't comment on Montour's specific role, but said the matter is not about individuals, but about tribes. The tribes were within their sovereign rights and following state and federal guidelines around marijuana laws and tribal territories, he said.
"Efforts to turn this into a story about individuals would be reckless, malicious and defamatory in the face of what is only known for certain and that is local federal authorities … undertook to intrude on two tribal lands to execute a search warrant," he told the newspaper.
Chamber of commerce president Keanin Loomis said the chamber would talk to Reda and then decide how to handle the allegations.
"I'm not going to take the story in the newspaper as the only story, so we'll obviously talk to Rami," he said.