$600,000 seized, 12 arrested in cross-border smokes/drug bust
Based on reserve spanning Canada-U.S., Ont.-Que.
Police arrested a dozenpeople and seized boats, ATVs, cigarettesand $600,000 cash after busting an alleged cigarette smuggling and drug trafficking ring based in Akwesasne Territory on the Canada-U.S. border.
Police made the arrests Monday morning after a two-year investigation involving the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police, Cornwall and Akwesasne police forces, and Canadian Border Services Agency.
William Cook, 31,of Cornwall and Patrick Johnson, 36,of New York state have been charged with 50 offences, along with additional charges in the U.S.Another 10 people — from a variety of nearbycommunitiesincluding Cornwall and Long Sault,Ont.; Chateaugay, NewYork; and Akwesasneitself — face 65 charges among them.
Police said a lot of money had been invested ina plant that manufactured cigarettes on the New York side of the Mohawk reserve, which spans the international border near Cornwall, Ont., and also straddles the Ontario-Quebec provincial boundary.
Sgt. Michael Harvey of the Cornwall RCMP said the cigarettes manufactured at the factory, which operated under the name MHP Manufacturing,were smuggled across the St. Lawrence River to Canada by boat.
There, theywere stored on Cornwall Islanduntil they could bedistributed and sold, mainly to customers in Ottawa and Montreal.
Harveysaid police had found evidence that the profits from the cigarette sales were used to buy marijuana.
"And part of the marijuana was sold in the United States for U.S. funds that were then used to finance the operations of the cigarette manufacturing plant," he said.
Police have now dismantled the cigarette factory, Harvey said.
The location of the Akwesasne Territory makes it an attractive location for cross-border cigarette smuggling operations, anda number of largesmuggling busts have been made there before.
Akwesasne police Chief Lewis Mitchell said the reserve's reputation suffers as a result of its smuggling problems, butothers should share the blame.
"We're constantly getting black eyes for this type of behaviour," he said at a news conference on Monday. "We have to remember it's organized crime from Montreal, the big cities, coming into our community and exploiting our borders, exploiting our community."