Twelve people, including nine from Waterloo region, have been charged in what police are calling an "extensive and elaborate" California-to-Ontario cocaine trafficking operation, police announced Friday.
On Thursday, 14 search warrants were executed in Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto, Leamington and Wheatley, RCMP Supt. Jamie Jagoe said during a press conference about Project O-Wing.
In total, more than 38.5 kilograms of cocaine was seized, worth roughly $1.75 million. In Waterloo region, one kilogram of cocaine sells for between $42,000 to $45,000, police said.
"This is a large amount of cocaine by any standard," Jagoe said. Five "high-end" vehicles and "approximately $15,000" were seized.
Waterloo Regional Police Supt. Pat Dietrich described the international smuggling operation as "extensive and elaborate."
He said over 90 members of that force were involved in yesterday's arrests and seizures. Since September 2016, he said, "three full-time investigators and several other officers and investigative teams" were intermittently assigned to the case.
The smuggling was organized by a group of people in Waterloo region, police said. The suspects allegedly hid cocaine in the floorboards of commercial trucks carrying legitimate cargo.
"Traffickers often ship cocaine from the United States distribution centres including Houston and Los Angeles, along major highways to Canadian land ports in Ontario," Jagoe explained, "including Windsor, Sarnia and Sault Ste.Marie."
The U.S. departments of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Administration played "pivotal roles," Jagoe said.
Charges include conspiracy to import controlled substances, and the actual importation of controlled substances.
A Twitter user named Bil Chester posted a video of an arrest at a Walmart parking lot in Cambridge Thursday.
Jagoe said the suspect in that video was in the midst of importing drugs.
"As a result, we believed that it was the best time to arrest those individuals and in that location, we had our emergency response team do the arrest," he said.
Jagoe said during that particular bust, 34 kilograms of cocaine was seized.
"The major part of the seizure occurred and follow-up searches were conducted in the local area where additional amounts of cocaine was seized."