TWO MEMBERS OF COLOMBIA’S DRUG CARTELS GET 22-YEAR SENTENCES IN A NEW BRUNSWICK COURT
It was planned as the inaugural flight in a regular cocaine shuttle between South America and the United States—via Atlantic Canada. But the ambitious scheme came to an unexpectedly early end on April 3, when the first load of 1,100 lb. of cocaine— worth about $50 million—packed aboard a twin-engine Commander 1000 plane crashlanded near Fredericton. Last week, the aircraft’s two pilots, José Galindo Escobar and Fernando Mendoza Jaramillo, both natives of Colombia, pleaded guilty to charges of importing cocaine and possession of cocaine for the purposes of trafficking. Their sentences reflected both their audacity and the lethal potential of their contraband cargo. “You are sophisticated businessmen and pilots capable of transporting this repugnant cargo thousands of miles,” Justice David Russell of the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench in Burton, 15 km east of Fredericton, told Galindo and Mendoza. “I consider each of you to be professional criminals.” Then, Russell sentenced each of the Colombians to 22 years in prison.
The case, solved with the help of a Canadian pilot turned informant, provided dramatic evidence of Canada’s intended role in new Colombian drug-smuggling tactics. U.S. officials, who co-operate closely‘with Canadian law-enforcement officers in the war against drugs, have observed recently that Colombia’s drug cartels have been changing the rules of drug trafficking in effect since their first penetration of North America more than 10 years ago. Previously content to leave the distribution of their product up to local criminal networks, Colombian drug lords have recently discovered that they can dramatically increase their profits by taking over at least some of those operations themselves. And according to testimony given by RCMP officers in court last week, Galindo and
Mendoza were part of a far larger smuggling scheme designed by a drug cartel based in the northwestern Colombian city of Medellin. Its goal: to make New Brunswick a major distribution centre for cocaine in North America. Said New Brunswick RCMP Sgt. Mark Flemming after the court date: “They had planned to fly continuous loads of cocaine into New Brunswick.”
Indeed, the security around the Burton courthouse underscored the violent reach of the cartel that employed the two men. As a three-truck convoy drove the Colombians to Burton from the federal maximum-security prison in nearby Renous,
150 km northeast of Fredericton, two sharpshooters equipped with .308 rifles kept watch on the roof of the redbrick courthouse. Inside, more police armed with U.S.made M-16 and German MP-6 semiautomatic rifles patrolled the halls. Court officers wore bulletproof vests.
Those measures were, in large part, a cautious reaction to the apparent attempt in September by five heavily armed South Americans to break Galindo and Mendoza out of prison. Those five men—whose identities remain in doubt—will have a preliminary hearing in New Brunswick on Dec. 11. And three Colombians also implicated in the smuggling operation are scheduled to make court appearances in Montreal in January.
The trail of subterfuge that eventually led to Galindo and Mendoza’s arrest began with a man known as Douglas Jaworski, a Canadian commercial pilot who is now in hiding. New Brunswick RCMP drug squad Cpl. Gary LeGresley told the court last week that Jaworski worked as a pilot and adviser to the Medellin drug cartel and was “one of the few non-Colombians to be accepted” into the smugglers’ inner circle. So close was Jaworski to the cartel’s leadership that in
October, 1988, at the request of his thenemployer, Diego Caycedo, a partner of Medellin drug lord Pablo Escobar, Jaworski flew to the Maritimes to evaluate its smuggling potential.
Two months later, however, Jaworski se-
cretly approached the RCMP and offered to disclose the cartel’s plans. In return for $200,000 and assurances that U.S. officials would drop a number of outstanding tax charges against him, Jaworski became an informant. What followed, according to the testimony of RCMP officers in court last week, was a daring plan by the RCMP to break open Cayce-
do’s minutely detailed smuggling operation.
According to LeGresley, last Feb. 3, Jaworski met with three Colombians, one of them Galindo, at New York City’s La Guardia airport. They told Jaworski that Caycedo wanted an airstrip in New Brunswick—and they gave him $430,000 for that purchase and related expenses. With RCMP help, Jaworski procured a little-used private airstrip, known as the Weyman Field, at Burtts Corner, a hamlet about 20 km northwest of Fredericton. As Caycedo’s plans matured, he told Jaworski that he would receive about 23 lb. of cocaine for each shipment that reached Canada—most of that intended for the United States.
On March 3, LeGresley added, Jaworski conducted Mendoza on a tour of the facility that he had arranged for his Colombian master. First, he escorted him into Canada across one
of roughly 80 unguarded crossings along the Maine-New Brunswick border. The two then rented a plane and flew over the airstrip. According to RCMP testimony, Mendoza asked Jaworski to trim the tops from a grove of trees at one end of the strip. That request was not acted on, and at 8 a.m. on April 3, when Mendoza and Galindo attempted to land on the strip, their plane skidded off the runway after smashing through the trees.
RCMP officers, some disguised as local ground
crew, had been awaiting their arrival for four hours. While Jaworski and some officers posing as his assistants took the uninjured Colombians to a motel, other officers took charge of their cargo. Following the Colombians’ plan, they shipped it on to Montreal, where they substituted sugar for the cocaine before delivering it to Caycedo’s contacts. As a result of that operation, officers arrested three New York-based South Americans in Montreal, who are to appear in Quebec Superior Court on Jan. 15. Meanwhile, Mendoza and Galindo proceeded to Toronto, where police observed their activities before arresting them on April 6.
Still, police said that the dramatic operation was a fortunate exception in what is for the most part a losing war against the drug trade. In fact, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials say that two or three planeloads of cocaine, similar in size to the April seizure, travel unhindered through Atlantic Canada every month. And, although Canadian officials confiscated an estimated $484 million worth of illegal drugs entering the country last year, that is believed to be only about five per cent of the total. Indeed, in the case of cocaine, the smuggled supply appears to be increasing—in spite of the Colombian government’s war against the drug cartels. “For months now, all through 1989, police have been reporting steadily increasing purity and lower prices,” said one RCMP official. “That is an indication that cocaine is plentiful.”
As well, last week’s court case drew attention to the qualities that make the Maritimes an ideal route for smuggling illicit cargoes into North America. New Brunswick alone has about 90 isolated, little-used airstrips. In addition, both it and neighboring Nova Scotia have coastlines I dotted with small, unpopulat| ed harbors. “The dope busi5 ness is in the hands of the big boys, and they’re taking adR vantage of New Brunswick’s geography,” observed Fredericton-based author Barry Grant, whose book When Rum Was King chronicles liquor smuggling in the age of Prohibition. “People can go back and forth with impunity.” Despite last week’s verdict, the Atlantic connection continues to trouble North America’s embattled drug-enforcement officers.
PEETER KOPVILLEM with GLEN ALLEN in Burton and MARC CLARK and LISA VAN DÜSEN in Ottawa
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