(David Bell/CBC - image credit)
Police seized a significant amount of drugs, cash and a firearm while also arresting two men in a drug bust in Grand Falls-Windsor on Tuesday, just days after a bust in St. John's of what the RCMP call a "highly organized group" involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.
About 3.5 kilograms of cocaine, a quantity of crack cocaine, a "very large" amount of cash, a money counter, a firearm and a vehicle were all seized from a home in Grand Falls-Windsor after RCMP executed a search warrant on Feb. 16, said Staff Sgt. Kelly Bryan.
The amount of cocaine seized in its uncut, raw form was around $245,000, Bryan said. Once it was cut and ready for distribution, Bryan estimated it would have been worth as much as $850,000.
"It's very substantial for the province … in my experience, once of the largest busts we've seen here in central," said Bryan. "But sadly if the market wasn't here, that criminal activity to bring the drugs into our province wouldn't exist."
A 37-year-old man has been arrested and charged with trafficking cocaine, possession for the purpose of trafficking, unauthorized possession of a firearm and unsafe storage of a firearm. A second man has been arrested, and Bryan said he expected charges will be laid as the investigation continues.
Bryan said he's been noticing a trend toward larger quantity drug seizures in the province, mainly cocaine, and more recently MDMA, also known as ecstasy.
We've effectively disrupted a group that we had identified had laundered over $1.5 million in a very short period of time. - Insp. Stefan Thoms
"I believe that to be indicative of an increase in demand and use of illicit drugs in our communities, unfortunately. We've also seen an increase in the number of new players in our province with organized crime connections who are taking the risk to become involved in the drug trade," Bryan said.
As of now, Bryan said police have not found a direct link to the larger drug trade.
"However, with this size of cocaine that was seized, we believe it is to be connected, and that's under investigation."
It's the second significant bust in the province announced this week by RCMP.
On Feb. 11, police searched five homes — one in Torbay, two in St. John's, one in Etobicoke, Ont. and another in Mississauga, Ont. — in Project Barnacle, part of a follow-up investigation of the seizure of four kilograms of cocaine that happened in January.
In those homes, police found approximately 12 pounds of MDMA, making it one of the largest amounts ever seized in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The bust in the metro region resulted in perhaps the largest ever seizure of MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy, in the province, police say.
Police also found a stolen Glock handgun and five long guns, including an unsecured modified semi-automatic rifle next to a bed, along with 10,000 rounds of ammunition.
Eight people have been arrested: four men and one woman in this province, and two men and a woman in Ontario, says Insp. Stefan Thoms, in charge of the federal serious and organized crime section of the RCMP.
"We do anticipate further arrests are going to be coming," said Thoms.
"Also throughout the course of this investigation, we were able to determine that the Newfoundland members of this criminal organization had sent more than $1.5 million cash over a 10-month period to their drug suppliers in Ontario."
Thoms said he couldn't go into details of how, exactly, the money was transported, but did say it would depend on the "creative ingenuity" of the people involved.
"Essentially what was happening was, the group in Newfoundland was operating in conjunction with an organized crime group in Ontario, whereby they were bulk smuggling large amounts of cash out of Newfoundland and Labrador in order to avoid financial institutions and detection to the group in Ontario," Thoms said.
"The group in Ontario would then be sending down kilo-level quantities of cocaine as well as MDMA to this group for sale here in Newfoundland and Labrador."
Other items found at the homes included two credit card readers, a money counter, vacuum sealer and other items indicative of drug trafficking and money laundering, according to an RCMP release.
Nine vehicles, including a five-ton truck, skid steer, cars, pickup trucks and a side-by-side all-terrain vehicle (ATV) were also seized.
While more arrested are expected, Thoms said police are happy about shutting down an operation of this size.
"We've effectively disrupted a group that we had identified had laundered over $1.5 million in a very short period of time. That's in addition to $250,000 cash that we have seized right now," he said.
"We have taken a large quantity of both cocaine and MDMA off the streets, and for that we're quite grateful to have that out of the community."