Nova Scotia traffic stop led to major cocaine seizure by U.S. Homeland unit

HALIFAX — American and Canadian police displayed a table full of drugs and cash on Monday as they described how a traffic stop in Nova Scotia in May led to one of the largest cocaine busts in western New York state a few months later.

RCMP officers stopped a vehicle on May 26 that had travelled from Ontario to Nova Scotia, and found 40 kilograms of cocaine inside. They arrested a 52-year-old man who they allege was on his way to Halifax-based drug dealers.

That traffic stop helped investigators track a sophisticated, drug-importing system to Ontario and Buffalo, N.Y., Supt. Jason Popik told a news conference Tuesday at RCMP headquarters in Halifax. The arrest and drug seizure was tied to a wider investigation that had been going on in Ontario since 2022, he said.

"Our first task was to understand the distribution system in Nova Scotia. We were successful in that … Once we achieved (knowledge) of the distribution system, we needed to move out to Ontario where we believed the doorway into Canada was," he said.

Popik said the RCMP learned that the network stretched into the United States but they were "blind" about what the suspects were doing while in that country — until they started working with agents from the U.S. Homeland Security Department.

U.S. special agentMatthew J. Scarpino told the Halifax news conference that his team — working in concert with the Mounties — monitored a Canadian truck driver who entered the United States via Detroit on Aug. 7, and carried out surveillance as he met with three other truck drivers.

He said agents from the Buffalo office arrested the truck driver and seized 433 kilograms of cocaine from the vehicle's sleeper cabin on Aug. 10. The U.S. investigators charged 37-year-old Ahmed El Kady, from Hamilton, Ont., with possession with intention to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

Scarpino says the seizure was "extraordinary" and among the largest cocaine busts ever seen in western New York state. "This criminal network used established smuggling methods to transport and distribute substantial quantities of cocaine," he said.

"We've substantially disrupted this criminal organization and choked off a major pipeline of illicit narcotics into Canada and into the Halifax region."

Scarpino said the approvals to co-operate with the Mounties come quickly from him when information is received.

"We have several Canadian law enforcement agencies that send officers to our office every day. They work their day in Buffalo side by side with us," he said.

RCMP Const. Chad Morrison said the 52-year-old arrested in May in Nova Scotia was part of a drug-importation scheme that the crime group had created. The suspect, stopped at the at the Cobequid Pass toll booth, about 50 kilometres west of Truro, N.S., was bringing in cocaine from Ontario.

Morrison said the Mounties in Nova Scotia began investigating the drug network in 2022, and gradually built up their knowledge of how the organization operated. He said their understanding about the link into Ontario and New York state increased after the May 26 arrest.

He estimated that at various points as many as 100 police officers had assisted with the probe, including an officer from the Fredericton police force.

In connection with the case, RCMP officers on Sept. 1 executed multiple search warrants across Halifax and arrested four people, who are now facing multiple drug-related charges, including participation in activities of a criminal organization. Investigators seized four kilograms of cocaine, along with about $170,000 in cash, an estimated $120,000 in silver bars, multiple electronic devices, and six vehicles.

With the exception of El Kady, who remains in U.S. custody, all arrested parties have been released and will appear in Nova Scotia courts at a later date.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2023.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press