Trafficking ring stretched across Canada: RCMP


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WINNIPEG — A member of Manitoba Finance’s special investigations unit is among more than 20 people charged in connection with an alleged drug and illegal cigarettes trafficking ring.

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WINNIPEG — A member of Manitoba Finance’s special investigations unit is among more than 20 people charged in connection with an alleged drug and illegal cigarettes trafficking ring.

The RCMP probe, dubbed Project Dawgpound, began in May 2022, after RCMP intelligence analysts identified a trafficker dealing in large quantities of cocaine and other commodities operating out of Winnipeg, police said Tuesday.

At a news conference, RCMP Insp. Grant Stephen said 36-year-old Hue Ha of Winnipeg orchestrated the transport of kilograms of cocaine and large quantities of illicit cigarettes to Manitoba from Ontario.

“This is one of the larger-in-scale investigations, in respect to the RCMP. Specifically within the last year, I would say this is likely the largest,” said Stephen.

Lower-level associates would then distribute the illicit goods further, police said.

Ha or an associate would make the runs, as drugs were being transported on roads by vehicle, said Stephen, the Manitoba RCMP officer in charge of federal, serious and organized crime.

Ha was first arrested on the way back to Manitoba on Dec. 18, 2022. He was released on conditions, then arrested again Jan. 12, when Mounties executed search warrants as part of a “co-ordinated take down” of the suspected network.

Investigators seized large amounts of various street drugs — including cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA and fentanyl, which RCMP estimated to be worth more than $2.5 million — and 19 guns, including two pistols.

The contraband cigarette portion of the operation would have yielded Manitoba $1.47 million in tax revenue, officials said.

Police also seized four vehicles, electronic devices, a large amount of drug-trafficking paraphernalia, and “Crazy Indians” gang patches.

Ha has been charged with drug trafficking, two counts each of conspiracy to commit trafficking and evading payment of duty, possession of property obtained by crime over $5,000, trafficking prohibited firearms, corruption contrary to the Excise Act, selling cannabis and selling unstamped tobacco. He remains in custody.

Stephen said the network reached into many Manitoba communities beyond Winnipeg, including Ashern, Brandon, Fairford, Gypsumville, Poplar River and St. Laurent.

Outside of Manitoba, it reached into Calgary, Moncton, Pickering, Ont., Prince Edward Island, Toronto and Vancouver, police said.

Investigators learned Ha and other targets “had information regarding police enforcement plans,” specifically relating to the untaxed cigarettes, which was being leaked from within the provincial government’s finance department, Stephen said.

Police narrowed the leak down to a specific investigator with Manitoba Finance’s special investigations unit, he said.

Donovan Sired, 50, of Winnipeg, was arrested Jan. 12, and charged with bribery of officers, breach of trust by a public officer, and conspiracy to evade payment.

He’s been released on conditions. A justice department spokesman confirmed Sired is on a leave of absence without pay.

Stephen said the finance unit often works with law enforcement on tobacco investigations.

“It’s very concerning, obviously,” he said of the arrest of a provincial official.

“We were able to determine this relatively quickly, and we strategically used it to our advantage,” Stephen later added, without further elaboration.

Twenty other people — all residents of Manitoba and Ontario — have been charged in the probe, including a Corps of Commissionaires guard at the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health in Winnipeg.

“That particular individual would meet with Hue Ha or other targets of the investigation on lab property and then would store and traffic drugs for this criminal organization while at work,” Stephen said.

RCMP did not have the full list of the names of those accused immediately available. Their alleged roles in the network ranged from importing and distributing illicit smokes, drugs and firearms into and across Manitoba and elsewhere in the country, police said.

RCMP have established ties between the network and gang activity in the province, but are still probing the network’s connections to organized crime groups elsewhere in the country, Stephen said.

Investigators have secured arrest warrants for two more people with alleged ties to the network, and the larger probe will continue for at least several months, Stephen added.

» Winnipeg Free Press

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