22 arrested in major cross-border guns, drugs bust
Twenty-two people have been arrested so far and charged with more than 250 offences related to a cross-border criminal organization that allegedly brought drugs and weapons into Southern Ontario from the U.S.
Ontario Provincial Police revealed details Thursday morning of massive police raids which they say dealt a "significant blow" to criminal networks operating primarily in the Greater Toronto Area with import routes to the United States.
OPP Det. Insp. Steve Clegg, program manager of the provincial weapons enforcement unit, said about 300 officers on Wednesday carried out 27 criminal code search warrants in the regions of York, Durham, Halton, City of Toronto and City of Windsor.
Dubbed "Project Folkstone," the operation also involved officers from the Canada Border Services Agency and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The officers also seized, all in Ontario:
- 18 illegal guns
- $75,000 in cash
- $400,000 worth of cocaine
- $75,000 worth of marijuana
- 10 stolen vehicles, including cars and motorcycles, valued at more than $175,000.
The investigation revealed that the "very sophisticated" organization was smuggling guns into Canada from the U.S.
Clegg said the primary Ontario sources of firearms were two individuals from Windsor, Ont., who imported them from across the border in Kentucky. The Windsor suspects then allegedly distributed the guns in the GTA.
About 80 firearms were supplied to traffickers in Windsor to date, and have been identified as having originated from Kentucky.
"Cross border gun trade is closely linked to drugs," said Clegg, "and when you pair smuggled crime guns with drugs, tragedy in our community becomes a certainty."
The investigation is ongoing, but as of Thursday, Clegg said 22 people face charges relating to firearms possession and trafficking, drug possession and trafficking, possession of property obtained by crime, and various offences relating to participating in a criminal organization, as well as other criminal code offences.
Special Agent Regina Lombardo of the U.S. bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said her department's investigation began in 2008 when they came upon an organization they believed was trafficking weapons.
"We identified several individuals on the U.S. side of the border," she told reporters in Toronto. But it wasn't until the ATF investigated a crime in Windsor when they traced a gun that originated in Kentucky. "At that point we knew we had a connection to the U.S."
Lombardo said the ATF investigation is also ongoing, and there are at least three suspects who may face prosecution.
Most of the search warrants under Project Folkstone, which began in September 2009, were conducted in the Toronto area.
One of those arrested is alleged ringleader Philip MacDonald, 39, of Toronto. He faces charges related to participating in a criminal organization, along with drug and weapons trafficking offences. He was to appear in court in Newmarket on Thursday.
With a report from CTV Toronto's John Musselman