The War on Drugs

Warren Gerard April 2 1979

The War on Drugs

Warren Gerard April 2 1979

The War on Drugs


Warren Gerard

They are called mules and they carry the nose candy and smack in their various orifices, taped below navels, between cleavages of breasts and shoulder blades, strapped to legs, hidden in shoes, stuffed animals and suitcases. There’s no stopping imagination. They pour liquid hashish, half an ounce at a time, in condoms, up to 60 at a time, and swallow them, hoping the rubber doesn’t rupture. The importers smuggle their dreams and nightmares in cans of dog food, baseballs, bolts of cloth, straw hats, scuba tanks, golf clubs, bongo drums, inside hollow figurines of the Holy Mother and the statues of false gods. They mail heroin and cocaine in letters from the United States, Colombia, Bolivia, Holland, Thailand, Peru, from everywhere. They move marijuana across the border in transport trucks, by boatload across oceans and drop it by the bales from planes. For-

tunes are made in the drug trade—estimated at up to three billion tax-free dollars last year in this country, more

than twice what the Montreal Olympics cost, more than the annual budgets of six of the country’s 10 provinces, more than all but seven corporations made in Canada.

A senior RCMP drug officer says, without smiles, he is “optimistic” that law enforcement agencies are seizing “four to five per cent” of the illegal drugs entering Canada, which means drug smugglers are 95to 96-per-cent successful.

Augustin Nadreau looks the part: 40, tall, six-feet two-inches, imposing, distinguished, slightly greying hair, dressed in an expensive three-piece corporation-blue suit. A few years ago he was Haiti’s consul-general in Los Angeles and the red diplomatic passport came with the territory. It was the diplomatic passport that became Nadreau’s scam in the cocaine trade. Nadreau and his partner Jean Jerome, 41, of Miami, made a connection in Bogota, Colombia, where they bought 10 pounds of cocaine, some of it up to 80-per-cent pure, for $70,000. The same cocaine, cut down, usually with borax, a cheap powder, for weight, would have a street value of more than $1 million in Canada.

A few days earlier Jerome had flown to Panama with his three mules, Olga Diaz, 31, and Jocelyn Charles, 25, both of New York, and Renadine Baptiste, 33, of Miami. Jerome stayed with Nadreau for a few days in Bogota, but he became nervous about leaving the three couriers alone in Panama. He flew there, and after arranging for visas, took the women to Jamaica where they checked into room 8012 of the Sheraton Hotel in Kingston to await Nadreau’s arrival. A couple of days later Nadreau checked into room 1211. It was in this room that the two men packed their mules, taping the cocaine in plastic pouches to their backs and bellies, storing it in their bras and shoes, and one of the women, waste not, stuffed her panties full of pot.

They wore loose clothing to hide the bulges of their packages on the flight from Kingston to Toronto. Their ultimate destination was Los Angeles, but they had decided it would be safer to go through Toronto because U.S. customs spend more time looking south than north for drugs. But something went wrong. Maybe a connection had squealed. Maybe one of the mules had a big mouth. Perhaps Nadreau and Jerome had made a slip. It doesn’t matter now. The RCMP’s man in Jamaica was on to the scam. He passed on the news to Mounties and customs officers at Toronto International Airport that Nadreau, Jerome and the mules, each of whom had been promised $2,000 for the job, would try to make their way through customs, without an inspection, on Nadreau’s diplomatic passport. It might have worked without the tip.

Customs seldom check a diplomatic passport or challenge those travelling with a diplomat.

Nadreau tried to bluff, but it was too late. Customs made a body search of the mules. Jerome told a Mountie: “You’re going to learn a lot about the cocaine trade tonight.” Later, one of the mules testified against the others. Nadreau and Jerome, both of whom had carried nothing, were locked into the scam through air-ticket numbers, visa numbers and hotel bills. Nadreau and Jerome received 15 years each. Two of the mules, Diaz and Charles, were sentenced to eight years, the third, Baptiste, to nine years.

The Guajira Peninsula is an unattractive, bone-dry, table-flat piece of land jutting out from the mainland of Colombia into the Caribbean. It’s thinly populated by suspicious, aggressive people, and the Colombian army doesn’t venture among them or on the peninsula except on battle footing. This is where the dirt airstrips crisscross the land. There are more than 150 of them, more than all the legal airports in Colombia, and from them fly thi night planes, their holds full of bales Santa Marta Gold. The smokers say it better than Mexican marijuana. U authorities say it is three to 10 ti more potent than the Mexican, which has all but disappeared in the past two years since the spraying of the fields pot with paraquat, a poisonous herbicide that destroys the 1 Colombians, with the growing season, who have profits, although they are comers to the trade. demand became so great for their marijuana, the Colombians were processing about 70 per cent (and still are) of all cocaine destined for the coffee tables of the champagne-and-caviar set in the United States and Canada. Last year it amounted to 66,000 pounds, worth $20 billion.

But marijuana has displaced cocaine as the big draw for Colombian smugglers. It is estimated that Americans smoke about 130,000 pounds a day,, quadruple the 1974 consumption, and spent about $25 billion on last year’s highs. Meanwhile, Colombian authorities say 240,000 acres of marijuana crops have been planted since the Mexicans, with the help of U.S. subsidies, poisoned their crops. It means that Colombia can produce 60,000 tons this year, which would be worth more than $6 billion at a wholesale price of $50 to $70 a pound, but the street price of such a quantity in Canada at $700 a pound could sell for $840 billion.

Smuggling marijuana has become a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Some smugglers have retired for life after three or four trips to Colombia. A pilot makes $50,000-plus for a round trip of 12 to 18 hours. Some smuggling rings take in $2 to $3 million a week. Most of the airstrips of the Guajira Peninsula have been bulldozed into the desert. One strip is big enough to take jets and the roofs of houses on each side of the strip are covered with luminous paint to guide the planes. The authorities, given the inclination, have little or no chance of catching the night birds of Guajira. They come and go in a matter of minutes. But the smugglers find their own grief. Some 40 illegal planes have

crashed on land and others have crashed into the sea, their crews devoured by sharks.

Some fliers operate like Robert Eby, a lanky, grinning inmate of a U.S. federal prison. He was arrested when his DC-4 loaded with Colombian Gold got stuck in the mud at an airport in Virginia. Before that, he had made 30 smuggling flights, penetrating the American Air Defence System each time.

“Coming back to the United States, you listen on the radio for flight plans to be filed, and coming out of the Bahamas and out of a lot of Latin-American countries there are no telephones or facilities to file a flight plan other than by when you get in the air. Then you file it over the radio. You listen for somebody to file a flight plan and being you are in a faster aircraft, say a DC-4 over a Cessna 172, you try to catch up to where he is at and before he penetrates you are on his tail about 30 feet behind him.” This way radar is confused.

The rugged coastline around the peninsula provides deep-water berths for oceangoing “mother ships.” They load up by tons at a time and are helped by local fishermen who fish by dày and at night sail their square-rigged dugout canoes up to the gunwales with bales of marijuana to the awaiting ships. It’s worth about 100 pesos ($3) a trip. The U.S. Coast Guard seized more than six million pounds of marijuana from “mother ships” last year, but despite the larger captures only about 10 per cent of the marijuana entering the United States is being intercepted on the high seas.

There are slight indications it will become tougher for smugglers. Colombia’s new president, Julio César Turbay, has vowed a “crusade” against smugglers and the army, air force and navy have been provided wflth new sophisticated electronic search equipment. But there’s a backlash to that on the peninsula. Successful law enforcement isn’t good for business. The Merchants Association of Guajira is alarmed that if smugglers are put out of business more than 40,000 locals will be out of work, the local economy, Santa Marta Gold and smuggling would be destroyed.

They sailed to Colombia and loaded two of their boats with 439 bales of high-grade marijuana.The street

value for the 13.6 tons of pot in Canada would have been more than $15 million.

Once they had picked up their cargo, they set sail for Vancouver Island, a long voyage. Somewhere, probably in Colombia, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had been tipped off by an undercover agent. On their northern voyage they stopped in port on the coast of Costa Rica. There, DEA agents slipped aboard one of the vessels, the 120-foot Toerny, and planted a transmitting device which sent a signal to a spy satellite. The satellite, in turn, beamed a signal to Alaska and from there it was transmitted to a computer in Washington, D.C. The unscrambled signal gave the Toerny’s latitude and longitude every time the satellite passed over it. Once the boats entered U.S. waters they were tracked by radar and visually by the coast guard and the Canadians in Armed Forces planes took over in Canadian waters.

On a foggy July night last summer, six months after the operation started, the Toerny and the 70-foot Weatherly entered Shelter Inlet, a perfect smugglers’ cove surrounded by mountains, northwest of Tofino. The other boat, the 38-foot Sunfish, was lost in the fog and found several days later scuttled, empty of drugs and crew. At dawn some 50 RCMP officers on two police boats, backed up by two destroyers, HMCS Kootenay and Terra Nova, boarded the Toerny and Weatherly and arrested 15 men, 13 of them Canadians, and seized the marijuana. It was Canada’s biggest pot seizure.

There’s a Prohibition flavor about the drug trade: it has an aura of adventure and romance. The smugglers make fast runs, big profits and take small risks. The users, the potheads, are provided with high times and mellow evenings. Few are exposed to anything more dangerous than their friendly corner trafficker. Yet there is another side. The drug trade is quickly becoming organized on an international level, although the small, independent operator is still very much in evidence. The big operators, however, establish forwarding companies in source countries (Canada has become a source country for the manufacture of chemical drugs—LSD, speed, PCP), have financiers in various parts of the world, incorporating companies in Canada with the capability of laundering money through Swiss banks and reinvesting in land, real estate holdings, stocks and bonds.

There is the violent side, too. Murder is commonplace in the drug trade. In the United States, for example, the smuggling bosses routinely put out contracts on witnesses who might turn informers. One Florida gang (where the drug trade is the state’s biggest industry, bigger than tourism or oranges) paid $200,000 for hit men to kill the state’s entire list of material witnesses in one case. A narcotics agent was killed by a hit man in Tampa. In Canada, RCMP undercover men have been threatened and live in danger. There have been mob deaths in Montreal. Members of motorcycle gangs, who control the chemical drug trade, routinely murder one another. They are truly speed freaks. It’s no different in Colombia where they have their own “mafiosa” or gangster families. The Cardenas and Valdeblanques are two such families thriving on the marijuana and cocaine trade. They have been feuding for 30 years and dozens of “soldiers” in both families

have been killed. Recently a Valdeblanques hit squad machine-gunned a Cardenas funeral procession, killing six. More recently, DEA agents identified the organization behind a multimilliondollar marijuana smuggling operation on the northeast coast of the United States, presumably with ties into Montreal. The group, traditional Mafia, was once led by the late Joseph Colombo of Brooklyn and now is led by John (Sonny) Franzese. The mob’s ships smuggle marijuana directly from Colombia to the New York area. They have had no trouble doing it.

It has been estimated that there are three million pot smokers in Canada and it costs various police forces about $1.5 million a week to enforce marijuana laws. It’s a growth industry. In 1963, for example, there were 59 drug convictions in Ontario, 32 of them for heroin, the others, assorted drugs, but in Toronto alone last year 4,696 persons were charged with possession of marijuana or hashish. In 1977, the latest year for which national figures are available, 45,227 Canadians were charged with possession of the drug. Twenty years ago, with the exception of a few spaced-out jazz musicians, the drug was hardly known in Canada, but today it is as familiar in the classroom as at the Saturday-night pot party. A recent survey in Ontario found that 33 per cent of high-school students and nine per cent of elementary pupils smoke it.

The simmering issue of decriminalizing marijuana, or removing the drug from the Narcotic Control Act, which provides a maximum seven-year prison term, will continue to simmer until a new government is elected (see box page 28).There is opposition. A 30,000member Toronto-based group, Alcohol and Drug Concerns, Inc., asked for a delay in the proposed legislation until decriminalization laws in 11 states south of the border have been studied. The fear is that the new law will lead to more marijuana smoking. Yet a recent Gallup poll commissioned by Ontario’s Addiction Research Foundation shows that decriminalization of marijuana is favored by 46 per cent of Canadians. The same 46 per cent thought marijuana should be sold in governmentregulated stores or that possession of small amounts of the drug should not be a crime.

The man is slight, tidy, in his early 20s. He faces a jail term for drug trafficking. The Mounties caught him with two pounds of hashish. “I could get years,” he shrugs, “but I expect to serve four to six months.” He agreed to talk about his career in the drug trade as long as he wasn’t identified. He started as a user when he was a 15-year-old high-school student in Northern Ontario. Since, it has become a smoke-up way of life. He started with LSD, went to hash, has used heroin, which he describes as “a nice drug,” grass, just about everything. He had one bad trip on PCP. They call it Angel Dust in the States and Strawberry T in Canada. It’s a horse tranquillizer. “It gives you a feeling of dying, of death,” he explained.

At 16, he became a dealer, simply to support his love of hallucinogens and hash. His turnover was $200 a month. Then he was busted for carrying $5 worth of pot. The judge, who he says knew him, put him in jail for three weeks for a pre-sentence report. He was given three months probation and fined $100. He sold drugs to pay the fine. Since the whole town knew about it, he left Northern Ontario, still 16, and went to Toronto, where the drugs were easy to find and he wasn’t known.

“I quit dealing for a while, but I kept smoking.” Then he made contacts through friends, acquaintances, the network of the drug culture, and began dealing again. “I became extremely paranoid. If somebody I didn’t know approached me for drugs I wouldn’t talk to him. I would never sit with my back to the door.”

At 20, he met “an excellent connection.” They went into busiI ness, renting adjacent apart-

ments. “On some days we had as many as 75 customers. Some days I remember counting out $35,000 a day. It came from Mexico in the bottoms of cars, by private and commercial planes. We were making $50,000 a month at the peak, but we became careless. It was stupid because we could have become rich if we had been a little more diligent.”

One day, just before the RCMP arrived, he left the apartment with two pounds of hash oil, some pot and a small amount of heroin. His partner was caught and sent to jail. Yet he continued, selling small amounts, making about $2,500 a week, until the RCMP caught him, the same way they caught his partner, through an informant.

British Columbia has 7,000 heroin addicts, which is 60 per cent of the total in Canada. It has been conservatively estimated that the average addict uses three caps a day at $50 a cap of threeper-cent pure heroin—well over $540 million a year in the B.C. smack trade. Most heroin comes directly from the Far East, although more of it is coming through the New York-Toronto route. It keeps the Mounties almost fully occupied in B.C. Said one RCMP officer, jokingly, perhaps: “Look, if some other jurisdiction calls us up and asks for some help on a cannabis bust, we tell them we

don’t have the bodies to look at anything less than 200 pounds.” A big problem, one that is almost unenforceable, is the mail trade in heroin. A single envelope averages between two and four grams of 85to 95-per-cent pure heroin, which when diluted and sold at streetlevel purity, nets the pusher $16,000 to $29,000.

Wo Kong Tse, 25, arrived in Toronto last November in search of two female mules to pose as tourists on three continents. All they had to do for the trip, plus $5,000 each at the end, was carry six kilograms of heroin worth more than $20 million.

Wo Kong’s mistake was that the two female mules he recruited were RCMP undercover agents—again, a tip. It was one of the few times a police force had infiltrated a drug ring to provide couriers. And this ring was special: it was part of the Chinese Connection, the group that controls the heroin trade in the Golden Triangle on the Thai-Malay border. The Chinese Connection has taken over the heroin trade since the French Connection was unconnected and the Turkish government cracked down on heroin production.

The two undercover agents first went to Hong Kong. Six other RCMP agents preceded the women and two other agents went on the same flight, posing as tourists. They sat in Hong Kong for several days before moving on to Penang (where the eight-man team and the two Mountie mules nicknamed themselves La Gang from Penang). They stayed in Penang, all the time in contact with the Chinese heroin smugglers, for several days. At one point, unexpectedly, the smugglers told the two women to change hotels. They feared they might lose their undercover escort, but at the new hotel, where two of the smugglers were showing them how to make a suitcase switch, they suddenly heard whistling from the corridor. The tune was Canadian Sunset.

The next stop—it was January by now—was Zurich. This time they were carrying the heroin. At all times they were covered, either by their own team of undercover agents or by foreign agents who were co-operating with the RCMP. Then two days later they went to Paris, where several days passed before the smugglers made final arrangements for delivery of the heroin in Rotterdam and Brussels. When one of the women arrived in Rotterdam, Dutch police moved in and arrested three men. Three others were arrested at the train station in Paris just before the other Mountie was to take the train to Brussels. It was one of the most important and adventurous busts the Mounties had made.

But it didn’t make a wrinkle in the drug trade.