U.S. and Canadian investigators have smashed a major organized crime group that pumped high-potency British Columbia-grown marijuana into the United States.
The investigators seized hundreds of thousands of dollars in proceeds on both sides of the border.
U.S. Customs special agent Rodney Tureaud and Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesman Cpl. Garry Begg said four people were arrested in British Columbia, and nine others in the United States.
Sixteen banking institutions were searched and property, including an Aerospatiale Astar 350 helicopter, a home in Surrey, B.C, and two Mercedes Benz automobiles, were also seized.
Also seized under Canadian proceeds of crime laws were $350,000 in U.S. currency, $110,000 in Canadian currency, 3 kilograms of cocaine worth $120,000, 20 pounds of packaged marijuana worth $75,000, two loaded handguns, several shotguns and rifles and two crossbows
The joint U.S.-Canadian probe focused on the air shipment of premium "B.C.-bud" with the use of the Astar 350 chopper, which made drug runs dropping off marijuana near Mount Baker, a few miles inside Washington State.
"This group was responsible for numerous airdrops of marijuana into western Washington State and the smuggling of firearms, cocaine and currency into Canada," said Customs agent Tureaud at a joint press conference held in Langley, B.C., which is in a border district south of Vancouver.
"To date, investigation in the United States has resulted in the arrest of nine individuals and the seizure of approximately 270 pounds of marijuana, $78,000 in U.S. currency and a helicopter valued at $410, 000 (U.S.)," he said.
As part of the two-year probe of what police described as a "highly organized criminal group" Canadian authorities raided 16 banks to check for evidence of money laundering.
"We were looking for proceeds of crime — any evidence of large deposits," said RCMP spokesman Cpl. Garry Begg.
U.S. Customs agents found the group criss-crossed the Washington-B.C. border on numerous occasions with elaborately concealed marijuana. In one instance the customs agents at Blaine, Wash., found a resident of Idaho crossing the border with 10 pounds of marijuana wired to the undercarriage of his car.
The group had buyers in Idaho, Oregon and California, authorities said. RCMP are planning to charge four men arrested in Canada with trafficking, possession and exportation of drugs. They are also to face charges of laundering proceeds of crime, possession of restricted firearms and possession of property obtained through the proceeds of crime.
A Hell's Angels Operation
As part of the probe, the Organized Crime Agency of British Columbia monitored two men departing Abbotsford, B.C., in the Astra 350 chopper.
The Aug. 22, 2000 surveillance showed the helicopter heading into a remote logging road in the Mount Baker area.
"Two large and one small duffel bag were off-loaded there into a vehicle with Washington plates," said a spokesman for the organized crime agency.
Trafficking in "B.C.-bud" is a lucrative business said to be mainly controlled by the Hell's Angels outlaw group in B.C. Enriched home-grown marijuana fetches almost $350 per ounce in drug consumer markets such as Los Angeles.
Sentences imposed in B.C. courts have failed to deter the growers because most growers in B.C. regard sentences of 12 months in prison as the "cost of doing business."
Penalties are much higher for trafficking and growing marijuana, and intelligence officials tell ABCNEWS many of their growers have moved north of the border where sentences are lighter.
At least 13 individuals are expected to be charged on both sides of the border in the current investigation. One caught in B.C. is a member of the Hell's Angels.