The Ontario Provincial Police, in coordination with several other police forces including the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), say they have broken up an international drug-trafficking ring and seized large quantities of cocaine.
At a Thursday morning news conference, police said that the investigation was focused on breaking up an international drug-trafficking group but that it eventually expanded into a larger investigation into two major GTA-based crime groups and their other illegal activities, which allegedly include mortgage fraud and phishing scams.
Police say that the first organized crime group was responsible for importing cocaine from Colombia by hiding the unprocessed drugs in textiles. Once the drugs had been smuggled into the country, they were taken to a laboratory to be processed for sale.
The Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP say they seized 87 kilograms of cocaine that was being smuggled into Canada through planes from the Caribbean by this group.
“Despite restrictions at our borders and despite an ongoing global pandemic, organized crime continues to show blatant disregard for the law,” OPP Deputy Commissioner Chuck Cox said.
The second organized crime group is alleged to have conspired to import cocaine from the Caribbean and to export illicit cannabis from Canada into the United States.
On July 7, 44 search warrants were enacted in 25 locations across Ontario. Police say they seized cocaine, illicit cannabis, ketamine, oxycodone, several cars and over $370,000 dollars in cash. In total, police say that nearly $10 million worth of drugs have been seized.
During the investigation, police say they discovered that one individual involved in the crime groups had used drug funds to purchase a house for $1.5 million, in collaboration with a mortgage broker and pharmacist.
Another individual was found to be involved in two other drug rings including the operation of an illegal steroid business and a laboratory that produced the psychoactive drug GHB.
A total of 22 people have been charged with 139 offences. Police say they are still looking for one suspect and that a warrant has been issued for their arrest.
The investigation, called Project Southam, was led by the OPP alongside York Regional Police, Provincial Operations Intelligence Bureau and the DEA, with help from other jurisdictions throughout the 15-month long investigation.
“We recognize the only way to combat the illegal operations of these groups is by working together and our collective goal is keeping our citizens safe,” York Region Deputy Chief Brian Bigras said in a statement.