Police take down organized crime network, show off drugs and guns

An organized crime network that transported multiple kilograms of cocaine from southern Ontario into the hands of high-level drug traffickers in Winnipeg has been taken down by police.

Eleven people — seven from Winnipeg and four from Ontario, ranging in age from 25 to 40 — are charged with a total of 56 Criminal Code offences related to conspiracy, trafficking of a controlled substance, proceeds of crime and firearms offences.

Police also seized some $300,000 in Canadian cash along with:

  • 4 kilograms of cocaine (valued at $340,000).
  • A half-kilogram of fentanyl (valued at $60,000).
  • 500 grams of psilocybin, or magic mushrooms (valued at $2,000).
  • 10 grams of the anaesthetic drug ketamine (valued at $1000.00).
  • A loaded .45-calibre handgun and ammunition.
  • A .38-calibre revolver.
  • Ammunition for a 9 millimetre handgun.
  • Ballistic body armour.
  • Digital scales, digital money counters, drug packaging material, cutting agents, vacuum sealing equipment, a safe, documents and records.
  • Numerous mobile communication devices.

Insp. Max Waddell, of the Winnipeg Police Service’s organized crime division, noted that cutting agents are used to dilute the purity of almost all illicit drugs in order to make them go further and maximize profits to the dealers.

But those agents, which can be a variety of things from aspirin to baby powder and other products like benzocaine, which is an ingredient in suntan lotion and first aid ointments,

As a result, the mix can often be fatal, Waddell said.

“The end result is the loss of a family member, a friend or someone who you know,” he said.

Four kilograms of cocaine along with fentanyl, psilocybin and ketamine were the drugs seized by police. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Criminals have also become more inventive during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has tightened borders and restricted travel, Waddell said.

“Drug couriers have resorted to more elaborate means to transport illicit drugs. We’ve seen shipments in semi-trailers, in covert hidden compartments in passenger vehicles and now we’re seeing the use of courier mail systems.”

The investigation into the inter-provincial network, dubbed Project Wonders, began in January 2020. Police eventually found the drugs being shipped through conventional package delivery services.

“Today’s announcement speaks to the extreme lengths that individuals will undertake to avoid detection from law enforcement,” said Waddell, who could not reveal the courier companies because the matter is now before the courts.

“But I can tell you it was a various group of different mail courier systems that were involved.” 

As the scope of the investigation expanded inter-provincially, the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) enlisted the assistance of the Ontario Provincial Police’s Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau.

The investigation led to arrests on Oct. 21, with nine search warrants — at five homes in Winnipeg and four in southern Ontario.

More than 100 police officers across the two provinces were involved in the searches.

“This exceptional result demonstrates our ability as law enforcement and prosecutions to work collectively to detect, disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations through targeted, proactive intelligence-led enforcement,” said WPS spokesperson Const. Rob Carver.

“The success of this investigation should be a reminder to those who wish to participate in organized crime that justice shall be served.”

Despite the arrests, the investigation is not over, said Waddell.

“We all know that cocaine is not produced in Canada and that will form part of the ongoing investigation,” he said, when asked if there are international links.