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Drug-trafficking network dealt crippling blow: police

Winnipeg police Staff Sgt. Rob Harding unveils goods seized as a result of Project Sideshow at a news conference Thursday.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Winnipeg police Staff Sgt. Rob Harding unveils goods seized as a result of Project Sideshow at a news conference Thursday.

Winnipeg police believe they have "crippled" a multimillion-dollar drug-trafficking network following a nearly two-year organized-crime investigation.

Details of Project Sideshow were released at a news conference Thursday morning. Police say they began targeting "an organized-crime group that operates across Canada" in the spring of 2012, culminating in 19 search warrants being executed last week in Manitoba and British Columbia.

A total of 14 people were arrested, including a 32-year-old Winnipeg man believed to be at the centre of the ring. They are facing dozens of drug, weapons and conspiracy-related charges.

Investigators say they used "court-authorized techniques to intercept communications between drug traffickers." Police also got legal permission to conduct secretive searches of properties where they "observed, photographed and sampled their drugs."

In total, police say they documented 92 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of $5 million, three-and-a-half kilograms of methamphetamine with a street value of $192,000, one kilogram of ecstasy with a street value of $20,000 and more than $4.3 million in cash believed to be from proceeds of drug sales.

The actual amounts of drugs and cash exchanged are believed to far exceed the amounts observed, police say. Officers were only able to seize a small amount of what they saw, as they couldn't risk jeopardizing the investigation.

"The bulk of the seizures were made at the end of the project," Winnipeg Police Service Staff Sgt. Rob Harding said Thursday. He called this one of the biggest operations his members have been involved with.

"We certainly saw a greater quantity of cash and drugs changing hands compared to other projects," he said.

Police also say they collected evidence of money laundering "in which the proceeds from the sale of illicit drugs were laundered through the use of privately owned ATM machines located within Winnipeg businesses."

"These organized-crime groups become more powerful as they grow and they collaborate or incorporate legitimate business," said Harding. "Their ability to grow and prosper has been crippled by this operation. It also sends a message to other groups out there that we are watching and that we do have the ability to infiltrate their operations and take them down."

www.mikeoncrime.com

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