$11.5M bust of drug-trafficking network largest ever in city, Winnipeg police say
11 people now facing charges after months-long investigation involving police in Winnipeg, B.C.
Winnipeg police have announced the largest seizure of illicit drugs and assets ever made in the city after a months-long investigation into a drug trafficking network dubbed "The Company."
Police announced at a news conference Wednesday that officers seized cash, bitcoin, proceeds of crime and assets valued at $11,580,500 as a result of a nearly year-long investigation led by the organized crime unit into a high-level, interprovincial cocaine trafficking operation.
Through an investigation that started in May 2020, dubbed "Project Gold Dust," police say they learned a network of drug traffickers was bringing large quantities of cocaine into Winnipeg from British Columbia.
On Feb. 10, a combined 144 police officers in Winnipeg and B.C. worked together to execute 13 property search warrants and nine vehicle search warrants in Winnipeg, as well as one search warrant in Surrey, B.C., one search warrant in Vancouver, and two vehicle searches in Vancouver.
The exhibits seized in Winnipeg included:
- 17 kilograms of cocaine.
- $2 million in cash.
- $270,000 in proceeds of crime, such as jewelry.
- $107,000 worth of bitcoin.
- Four firearms, including a Walther P99 9-mm semi-automatic handgun, a Sig Sauer P226R Legion handgun, a Daniel Defense M4 carbine automatic rifle, a Savage Model 110 .308-calibre rifle, as well as various ammunition and firearm components.
- 12 vehicles, valued at a combined $230,000.
- Multiple properties, including a multi-unit condominium property valued at $1.7 million
This is the first time police have seized assets in the form of the cryptocurrency bitcoin, said Insp. Max Waddell, who leads the Winnipeg Police Service's organized crime division.
"Unless we're able to infiltrate that, it's going to be tough for us to detect that. It's just opening up a whole other world for these individuals to move value that's outside of the banks," he said.
Eleven people are now facing charges as a result of the investigation.
Waddell said search warrants were executed at properties in all corners of Winnipeg, showing that the drug trade has no borders and impacts all of the city.
"Organized crime and the illicit drug trade drives violence, it drives property crime and more importantly, it's killing people," he said.
Cutting agent found at Winnipeg restaurant: court documents
The province filed a criminal forfeiture proceeding last week to seize properties and bank accounts of the Winnipeg people who are accused of being involved in the drug operation.
The court documents allege members of the network held meetings at various addresses in the city, including a Winnipeg restaurant that is owned by family members of one of the accused.
WATCH | "Project Gold Dust" takes down drug-trafficking network:
On two occasions in August of 2020, two of the men now charged met at the Viva restaurant in Winnipeg, the court documents say.
Police obtained a warrant to search the restaurant, and say during their search they seized approximately 100 kilograms of an agent used to cut cocaine.
A member of the family that owns the restaurant did not want to comment to CBC, other than to say staff there were not aware of any alleged drug dealing happening at the business.
On another occasion in November 2020, one of the men now charged was pulled over by Brandon police during a traffic stop, the court documents say.
Police say he was on his way back to British Columbia, and a search of the vehicle during the traffic stop turned up a kilogram of cocaine.
The vehicle was seized by Brandon police. A few days later, Winnipeg police obtained a warrant to search it. While searching it, police say they discovered a hidden compartment in the vehicle's trunk, which contained hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and another kilogram of cocaine.
None of the allegations in the documents have been proven in court.
With files from Nelly Gonzalez