It is axiomatic in the field of law enforcement that seizing the profits of a criminal enterprise is the equivalent of decapitating a dragon. Last week, in raids on homes, businesses and unspecified financial institutions in Montreal, Quebec City, TroisRivières and Vancouver, the RCMP dropped the guillotine on what police claim is the biggest drug-related money-laundering racket ever uncovered in Canada.
They arrested 57 people, including three Montreal lawyers, on charges of drug trafficking and conspiracy in the laundering of more than $100 million, most of it from cocaine sales across Canada.
RCMP Sgt. Claude Lessard said that the arrests and the evidence seized in the raids were a major setback for members of Montreal’s longestablished organized crime syndicate. Added Lessard:
“We left them with 25 cents for a phone call.”
In the never-ending chronicle of the war on illicit drugs, the Mounties’ cross-country strike last Tuesday was nothing short of spectacular. But before the week was over, it had competition: in an apparently unrelated drama, more than 300 Quebec provincial police officers swooped down on the Montreal bedroom community of Chambly at 6 a.m. last Thursday. The raiders took about 75 people, including the entire 24-member municipal police force, into custody for questioning, rousting many of them out of bed. By the next day, two police officers had been charged with trafficking and conspiracy to traffic in anabolic steroids. Another 32 people were charged with a range of offences including illegal arms possession, drug trafficking and conspiracy to traffic, as well as possession of stolen goods. Crown prosecutor Madeleine Giauque said that more charges would be laid this week.
The Chambly raids were bizarre, but the RCMP’s Montreal-based sweep, four years in preparation, was the stuff of big-budget crime movies. It encompassed: an elaborate sting operation in which RCMP officers oper-
ated a money exchange centre in Montreal where drug traffickers unwittingly deposited cash for laundering; the Aug. 17 seizure by undercover Mounties and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers of more than half a ton of cocaine off the Colombian coast; the discovery of a motorcycle gang—said to have been Hell’s Angels— involved in collecting the proceeds of drug
sales. Criminal networks, said RCMP Staff Sgt. Denis Dumas, senior investigator in the force’s Montreal drug section, “now know the type of work we’re capable of and they’ll have to be very cautious in the future.”
Those arrested and charged in Montreal included lawyers Richard Judd, Vincenzo Vecchio and Joseph Lagana, as well as Luis Cantieri, said to be the owner of a Montreal import-export business. Judd, Lagana and Cantieri were denied bail when they appeared in court. Meanwhile, in Vancouver, police arrested a man identified only as Norman Rosenblum, while Metro Toronto
In one of their biggest operations ever, the Mounties were assisted not only by the DEA but by Latin American, British, Quebec, Montreal and Toronto police. More than 3,500 telephone conversations were wiretapped, private homes and offices were raided, and hundreds of documents were seized.
Meanwhile, Chambly’s police cruisers remained parked in front of the department’s headquarters as provincial police took over patrol duties in the town of 17,000. While some Chambly officers returned to work, municipal officials said that the provincial police would remain as long as necessary. Their raid on the local force followed a fivemonth investigation—and years of rumors. “We always knew that some things were not right,” said Pierrette, a Chambly waitress who declined to give her last name. “But nothing was ever confirmed to us until now, and the policemen were always perfect gentlemen in public.” Another resident, 32-year-old Sonia Labbé, however, expressed surprise. “My kids are six and seven years old,” said Labbé. “Last night, they saw the news on TV and asked why our policemen are being arrested. What are we supposed to answer? It leaves a very bad image in their young minds.”
Although police said there was no connection between the Montreal and Chambly operations, former RCMP assistant commissioner Rod Stamler said in Montreal that he was not surprised by the apparent coincidence: “I found in my experience that as you’re getting information you tend to distribute what’s relevant to other investigators at other levels. Every major organized crime activity in Canada has a network of money distribution connected with it. If police focused on money-laundering operations to a greater extent in trying to deal with organized crime, they would be much more successful.” Given last week’s breakthrough in Montreal, it would seem that the police focus is firmly in place.
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