30 charged in alleged drug ring that used military-grade, Canada-made phones: indictments

Thirty people are facing U.S. federal drug charges for their alleged involvement in a major drug trafficking ring that connected Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Federal prosecutors in California announced Thursday they had arrested 10 of the suspects in the Vancouver and Seattle areas, and three others in and around Los Angeles.

The defendants were all allegedly involved in a conspiracy to export hundreds of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs from Mexico to Canada through California, according to two federal grand jury indictments unsealed Thursday.

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The organization also allegedly imported MDMA, or ecstasy, from Canada to Southern California in exchange for other drugs.

All the defendants are linked to organized crime groups in Canada, Mexico, Serbia, China, and Sudan, the court documents alleged.

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Some of the defendants operated or met to coordinate drug transactions in parts of B.C.’s Lower Mainland, including Burnaby, Langley and Vancouver, according to court documents.

Those documents alleged that several undercover members of the RCMP posed as money and drug couriers in those cities and helped gather enough information to lead to the arrests and charges, in coordination with the FBI and Homeland Security.

Prosecutors alleged that the defendants operated in various Californian cities in order to traffic drugs to B.C., with the intent to distribute the drugs throughout the rest of Canada. Some defendants also conspired to transport drugs from California to Australia.

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Court documents said the drugs would be exchanged for either large amounts of Canadian cash or bulk packages of ecstasy.

The defendants allegedly communicated with each other using military-grade encrypted messages on modified cell phones that were primarily manufactured by Canadian companies.

Those companies would remove all functionality from the phones, leaving just an encrypted email system, according to the court documents.

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Vancouver tech entrepreneur Vincent Ramos, founder and CEO of Phantom Secure, was arrested last year in in Bellingham, Wash., on a San Diego warrant that alleged he helped provide those encrypted phones to some of the defendants listed in this week’s indictments.

At least one of those defendants was already in federal custody and is facing earlier drug trafficking-related charges.

None of the allegations in the indictments unsealed Thursday have been proven in court.

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In total, police seized nearly 430 kilograms of cocaine, nine kilograms of heroin, nearly 50 kilograms of methamphetamine, and more than 46 kilograms of ecstasy in the latest operation.

Authorities also seized approximately $811,000 in Canadian currency.

The charges against the 30 defendants include conspiracies to distribute, import and export controlled substances.

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The 13 defendants appeared in federal court later on Thursday, with further court dates planned throughout the rest of the year.

If convicted of all charges, the defendants could face up to life in federal prison, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years behind bars.

Prosecutors say the investigation received critical support from police in Toronto, Sudbury and Hamilton, along with Peel Regional Police.

—With files from the Associated Press

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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