A tobacco smuggling ring based in Montreal, Canada, was recently crushed by local police, although officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Canada Border Services Agency, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, were present on the scene to assist. The smuggling ring, which was allegedly linked to the Mafia and to aboriginal organized crime, was a cross-border operation according to Sgt. Joyce Kenney, an agent of Surete du Quebec, with the bulk tobacco being shipped into Canada by truck from North Carolina. In fact, although the operation was hailed by Quebec provincial police as the largest investigation into contraband tobacco in the history of North America, police found much more than just tobacco.
Locations ranging from St.Leonard to Dundee were raided by police forces, resulting in a total of 28 arrests and the seizure of approximately 40 000 kilogrammes of contraband tobacco, an amount worth approximately 7 million dollars. The investigative force, which consisted of approximately 400 police officers, also seized roughly $450 000 in cash, 1300 marijuana plants, 14 vehicles, and a 9 mm pistol. The contraband tobacco was supposedly shipped through the Lacolle border crossing, or through the Akwesane aboriginal reserve, and was sold in the Kahnawake aboriginal reserve, located just south of Montreal.
Residents of the Kahnawake aboriginal reserve have defended the illicit sale of cigarettes, with Christine Zachary Deom, a member of the band council, asserting that the sale of contraband cigarettes is a much needed source of income in the economically troubled reserve. Peggy Mayo, a former member of the band council, also defended the contraband tobacco industry, denying all allegations that there was any Mob involvement whatsoever.
However, despite local sentiments, the 28 arrested persons will face charges including gangsterism, weapons trafficking, and fraud, as the illicit sale of tobacco in Quebec is estimated to deprive the province of up to 20 million dollars in annual tax revenue. Particularly important was the arrest of Nicola Valvano, who is alleged to be one of the main ringleaders. This arrest could crush the Montreal-based tobacco smuggling ring, as it may remove the leadership essential for the intricate task of cross-border smuggling operations. This phenomenon could be exacerbated by the fact that several of the men arrested have close ties with alleged Mob boss Raynald Desjardins. Desjardins, who is currently incarcerated, may have delegated responsibilities to these associates, and their arrest would, therefore, further weaken the command structure of the smuggling ring.
At least seven members of the tobacco smuggling ring are still on the lam, including Davary Bauersfeld, Carlo Colapelle, and Juan Carmona, but the series of raids carried out by Canadian and American government forces must, nonetheless, be seen as a success. Surete du Quebec has reported that Quebec police forces carry out around 1500 tobacco related operations each and every year, and that these operations result in approximately 1600 annual arrests. These figures suggest that the illicit tobacco industry in Quebec is on the decline, a phenomenon which will have a positive impact on America as well as Canada. U.S. Homeland Security official, James Spiro, has been reported by the Vancouver Sun as saying that the investigation had a direct impact on the U.S.A, likely due to the fact that the illicit tobacco was originating in America. This means that the crushing of a tobacco smuggling ring in Montreal will have a positive impact on American citizens, as it serves to weaken organized crime on both sides of the border.
By Nicholas Grabe