Manitoban snared in U.S. drug-conspiracy

Shaun Sunduk was living in a luxury home on the southern outskirts of Winnipeg and driving a high-end Cadillac SUV until being arrested this week on suspicion he was a major player in a cross-border drug-conspiracy.
Shaun Sunduk, 39, who appears in a 2003 police mug shot, was arrested this week on suspicion he was a major player in a cross-border drug-conspiracy. (Federal department of justice/RCMP )

Up until Tuesday, Shaun Sunduk was living in a luxury home on the southern outskirts of Winnipeg and driving a high-end Cadillac SUV, police say.

But now, the 39-year-old is being held at the city's remand centre on suspicion he was a major player in a cross-border drug-conspiracy that could see him behind bars until he's an old man.

Sunduk was arrested March 8 by Manitoba RCMP at his home in Grande Pointe on the strength of an extradition warrant recently obtained by federal U.S. prosecutors in New York.

Sunduk has no criminal record, although police say they consider him a flight risk given the serious allegations he's facing. He has yet to seek bail.

U.S. officials want Sunduk extradited to face drug-trafficking and drug-conspiracy charges in connection to an 2009 undercover narcotics sting conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that netted a number of arrests.

Each of the charges Sunduk faces carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, police say.

The covert police investigation resulted in the seizure of ecstasy and about 100,000 pills of a synthetic recreational drug called BZP from a 24-year-old drug courier. BZP can have similar effects to ecstasy.

Co-operating witness

Justice officials allege the drug courier, a Canadian by the name of Richard Hansen, was associated with Sunduk and had delivered drugs for him in the past.

Hansen — who police say went by the nickname 'Rich' — has pleaded guilty in U.S. court to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and is awaiting sentencing.

Hansen is currently out on supervised bail.

He was arrested after an Aug. 20, 2009 traffic stop in Roseau County, Minn., located about 2.5 kilometres south of the Canadian border.

Police pulled over a rented car with a Manitoba licence plate and searched it with Hansen's consent.

In the trunk, they located two duffle bags. Inside those were Ziploc bags packed with coffee grounds to throw police dogs off any scent of drugs.

The sealed bags contained yellow BZP pills "shaped like a yellow star," prosecutors said.

Police say Hansen told them he was driving the bags to New York City where he would be paid $150,000 US by an unknown person. He said he was being paid $15,000 for the trip.

The charges against him relating to the search and seizure of drugs from the car were dismissed at the request of prosecutors in September 2009.

However, court documents obtained by CBC News state Hansen is a key prosecution witness in the case against Sunduk.

Prosecutors say they have secured testimony from Hansen that they allege links Sunduk to the drug-stuffed duffel bags.

"Later, in interviews with prosecutors and law enforcement agents, Hansen identified Sunduk in a single photograph," and will also identify his voice in wiretapped phone calls, assistant U.S. attorney Daniel Chung said in a synopsis of the case.

The synopsis was presented to Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Richard Saull in support of the extradition warrant.

The allegations against Sunduk have not been proven.

Calls recorded

The investigation into Sunduk's activities began in June 2009 after he allegedly agreed to send an undercover DEA agent a sample of ecstasy pills through an associate in New Westminster, B.C., RCMP Cpl. Scott Hanson said in a sworn affidavit summarizing the case.

Communication between Sunduk and the undercover agent continued over the following two months, culminating in an arranged drug delivery involving about $150,000 worth of pills, Hanson said.

"On Aug. 20, 2009, Sunduk advised the DEA agent that an individual named 'Rich' would be crossing the border with the pills and would contact the agent that day. This individual, later determined to be a Richard Hansen, was recruited by Sunduk to transport pills referred to as [ecstasy] to New York.

"On Aug. 20, 2009, Hansen entered the United States to take delivery of the pills from an associate of Sunduk's," Hanson said.

The drug mule received the pills and was arrested. The drugs turned out not to be ecstasy, but instead BZP, said police.

Soon after the arrest, Sunduk told the undercover agent that Hansen "had been 'busted'" and that he would send him 1,000 pills by mail, according to the RCMP affidavit.

The pills arrived on Oct. 5, 2009, from a return address in Winnipeg, RCMP said. A shipment four times as large followed about 10 days later, police said.

On Dec. 4, 2009, and again on Jan. 6, 2010, RCMP searched Sunduk's house, which police described as "a large luxury home."

Police also noted there were two Cadillac Escalades parked outside, one of which was registered in Sunduk's name.

Neither of the searches resulted in charges.

"Although Sunduk has no previous criminal convictions, he has had prior contact with police and is known to myself and other RCMP members," Hanson stated in the affidavit.

Sunduk will be brought back into a court in Winnipeg on March 14 as his extradition process continues.

Star witness linked to case involving B.C. businessmen

Hansen was called to testify late last year in a U.S. drug-conspiracy trial against former Vancouver-based businessman, Luciano Mannu, according to court records. The trial ended with a hung jury, as did a second trial held this year.

Mannu, along with elderly New Westminster, B.C., businessman Silvano Cicuto and his adult son, were indicted in February 2010 on allegations they conspired to violate American narcotics laws in connection to a 2009 undercover ecstasy and BZP bust.

In the indictment, justice officials said the charges against the men were laid after undercover agents discussed a cross-border drug shipment and subsequent payment with an "unnamed co-conspirator."

Silvano Cicuto, now 72, has pleaded guilty and is currently awaiting sentencing.

A large number of letters of support have been filed with the court asking the judge for leniency.