Toronto-area cocaine ring dismantled, 22 facing 139 charges, police say

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Police say they have dismantled a drug ring in the Toronto area that was allegedly importing cocaine from Colombia and the Caribbean, some of which was hidden in textiles as it was smuggled into the country.

Ontario Provincial Police say a 15-month investigation, dubbed Project Southam, has led to 22 arrests after a series of raids last week.

The force says it worked with border guards, the RCMP, York regional police and the U.S.'s Drug Enforcement Administration on the probe that included the seizure of cocaine coming in on aircraft from the Caribbean.

Police say they found nearly 100 kilograms of cocaine, 255 kilograms of cannabis, nearly $400,000 dollars in cash and seven vehicles over the course of their investigation.

They say they identified two alleged organized crime groups during the probe, one that purportedly imported and trafficked cocaine from Colombia that was hidden in textiles and another that conspired to import cocaine from the Caribbean.

"Despite restrictions at our borders and despite an ongoing global pandemic, organized crime continues to show blatant disregard for the law," OPP deputy commissioner Chuck Cox said in a statement on Thursday.

"Project Southam has displayed the number of varying commodities and illegal activities that these organized crime groups are involved in — from cocaine to cannabis, and other offences including phishing and mortgage fraud."

Police said the two groups worked together to import high volumes of cocaine into Canada.

They allege the group with ties to Colombia established clandestine laboratories to process the cocaine into a "sellable state."

They allege a member of one group collaborated with a mortgage broker and the owner of a pharmacy to buy a $1.5 million house in the Toronto area.

Police said they also came across an individual who was allegedly involved with both groups and two other drug trafficking networks.

"The investigative team discovered this individual was operating an illegal steroid business as well as a clandestine laboratory producing GHB," OPP said in a statement.

On July 7, police said they executed 44 search warrants at 25 different locations across the Toronto region.

The 22 people they arrested face 139 charges.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2021.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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