British Columbia

B.C. gangsters in over their heads in Mexico

Gangsters from British Columbia are increasingly doing business with drug cartels in Mexico — a recklessly naive trend that has resulted in five deaths in the past four years, police say.

5 B.C. men killed in Mexico in past 4 years, police say

Gangsters from British Columbia are increasingly doing business with drug cartels in Mexico — a recklessly naive trend that has resulted in five deaths in the past four years, police say.

As part of a weeklong series on the effects of the Mexican drug war, CBC News spoke with law enforcement officials in B.C.'s Lower Mainland who say the killings are a clear sign greed is driving local gangs to do business in Mexico.

"It's just naiveté — they have no idea who they're messing with," said Doug Spencer, a former gang investigator with the Vancouver Police Department.

Duncan McCue looks at ties between the Mexican and B.C. drug trades tonight on CBC's The National at 10 p.m. (10:30 NT) on CBC-TV and 9 and 11 p.m. ET/PT on CBC News Network.

Tune in to CBC Radio One as Curt Petrovich investigates Canadian connections to Mexico's drug violence.

"They're messing with people that kill 50 people and decapitate their heads and throw them in a grave — an unnamed grave — and these gangsters up here think they can go down there and play ball with those guys? They're finding out pretty quick what it's like, right?"

In January, Salih Abdulaziz Sahbaz — who police say was the cartel contact for B.C.'s United Nations gang —  was shot to death in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. According to news reports from the area, he was shot as many as nine times with a high-powered weapon.

According to police, Sahbaz had replaced Ahmet Kaawach and Elliot Castenada, two members of the United Nations gang who were killed in a hail of bullets while they were dining at a restaurant in 2008.

Gordon Kendall and Jeffrey Ivans, from Kamloops, were gunned down in Puerta Vallarta in 2009. Police said the Kamloops men were involved in the drug trade and had been on the radar of investigators before they were killed.

'A cutthroat business relationship'

However, Spencer said, even those deaths aren't enough to deter B.C. gangsters.

Police in B.C. say gangsters are increasingly doing business with drug cartels in Mexico in order to increase their profits. (Carlos Jasso/Associated Press/Canadian Press)

"The bigger the risk, the bigger the profit — that's the way they look at it," he said. "They're just not smart enough to figure out what kind of danger they're putting themselves into."

RCMP Sgt. Bill Whalen, part a team of Lower Mainland investigators tracking the activity of B.C.'s notorious gangs, says local gangsters are increasingly cutting out the middleman and going straight to the source.

"I think the motive would strictly come back to greed, money," Whalen said. "I think after a while perhaps they become comfortable with dangerous situations, maybe forgetting the fact that they are dealing with very, very dangerous people in Mexico … I think often they just forget what's going on down there."

He said a kilogram of cocaine that costs about $20,000 from an American supplier costs only $8,000 to $10,000 in Mexico — but B.C. gangsters looking to cash in pay the high price of dealing with ruthless drug cartels.

"I would describe it as a cutthroat business relationship," Whalen said. "I think, particularly on the Mexican cartel side, you will find they deal with who they need to deal with and they will dispose of who they need to dispose of when it comes time."

'Say your goodbyes'

Rick Kendall has a hard time believing his son Gordon was involved in the drug trade.

RCMP Sgt. Bill Whalen says dealing with Mexican cartels is a very risky business. (CBC)

Kendall, who thought his son was developing a cattle ranch in Mexico, learned of his death when Mexican media posted graphic images of the crime scene online. He said his son had never been in trouble with police.

Ivans had a previous drug conviction in Kamloops.

Rick Kendall questions why the RCMP branded his son a gangster, but he has advice for anyone chasing drug profits in Mexico.

"After what we've gone through and not having the chance to say our goodbyes to Gordon and Jeff, I would say get your ducks in a row before you go down there," he said. "Say your goodbyes because there's a very good chance your family is going to hear on TV of your demise."

Nearly 50,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since the Mexican government launched its crackdown in 2006.

Many believe Mexico's war on drugs is failing because police officers are being paid off or threatened by the drug cartels.

Mexico is the primary source of marijuana and methamphetamines to the United States, and the main route for getting cocaine and heroin into the country.

With files from the CBC's Curt Petrovich