Canadian police have arrested five people, including a customs agent, suspected of smuggling cocaine and marijuana over the border between Quebec and the U.S.
RCMP Staff Sgt. André Potvin said the suspects — from Quebec and New Brunswick — were part of a "very organized and very established" underground network that ferried hundreds of kilograms of drugs across the Canada-U.S. border via Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle and the St. John River.
A customs agent, 26, was arrested on Sunday during a police sting operation that involved a controlled drug delivery across the St-Bernard-de-Lacolle border.
Four people were then arrested Wednesday in Montreal, Hemmingford, Que., and Edmundston, N.B.
The suspects arrested are:
- Mathieu Hébert, 23 (Hemmingford, Que.).
- James Munro, 26 (Hemmingford, Que.).
- Joseph Schmid, 23 (Hemmingford, Que.).
- Sylvain Borris, 47 (Kedgwick, N.B.).
- Mario Deslongchamps, 44 (St-Hubert, Que.).
Two other suspects linked to the investigation — Sylvain Levert, 41, and Serge Désilet, 54 — were arrested and charged in the United States earlier this year, Potvin said.
Police are searching for three more suspects: Luis Felipe Henao Burgos, 42, Roberto Cabezas, 38, and Alain Brisson, 35. Two are believed to be in Colombia and one in Quebec, Potvin said.
Investigators believe the network was conspiring to import cocaine from Colombia through the U.S. where the drugs would be transported to Canada overland through the Lacolle border, allegedly with the help of a Canadian customs agent.
"We saw exactly when and how they did this," Potvin told CBC.ca on Thursday. "We knew there was something going on" at the border.
Some drugs produced in Montreal
The network allegedly paid for some of its shipments with Canadian-grown cannabis and methamphetamines, including ecstacy, produced in Montreal, Potvin said.
Police moved in on the network after a large shipment of cocaine worth about $20 million fell through, when Colombian suppliers couldn't deliver the goods.
Undercover officers approached the network and arranged to have a fake shipment of cocaine smuggled through the Lacolle border, Potvin said.
Police arrested James Munro, a customs agent, after the sting operation went down on the weekend. Authorities believe he was only involved in the single alleged smuggling incident. They allege he accepted a $20,000 payment to ease the passage of the drugs over the border.
All suspects face several charges including drug trafficking, importation and possession conspiracies, possession of property obtained by crime conspiracies, the corruption of a Canada Border Services officer and other gangsterism-related conspiracies.
Potvin said police in New Brunswick and Quebec have been investigating the ring for about a year, after they were tipped off by U.S. authorities in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration.
U.S. authorities were investigating a marijuana trafficking ring when they realized there was a Canadian supply connection, Potvin said.
The FBI arrested the cannabis dealer in Florida last year and established the drug supply was coming from Canada.
Police suspect the network may have been involved in contraband cigarettes, because one of the suspects, Deslongchamps, was in possession of 200 cases of contraband cigarettes when he was arrested, Potvin said.
Police also believe the network was involved in helping illegal immigrants cross the border, but no related charges will be laid at this point.
Potvin said it was a "difficult investigation" because U.S. authorities only provided one person's name as an initial tip.