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Winnipeg man guilty in gun pipeline

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WINNIPEG -- A young Winnipeg man attending a North Dakota college to play football has admitted to fuelling street crime in his home city by helping smuggle nearly two-dozen high-powered guns across the Canadian border in exchange for cash and drugs, according to court documents.

Thomas Scher, 20, was sentenced in an American courtroom Monday to 366 days jail, in addition to three years of supervised probation, after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. Scher has been living south of the border while attending Minot State University. He struck a plea bargain with federal prosecutors to quickly deal with his case in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Two co-accused have also admitted their roles in the international crime ring, which began in December 2007 and ended in January 2009 with an undercover police sting operation in North Dakota
Curtis Rolle, a North Dakota resident also attending Minot State, has admitted to the same crimes as Scher. He will be sentenced in August. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison.

Gokhan Ozturk, 24, a Winnipeg resident who also goes by the name of Shane Gokhan, has admitted to the most serious charges and will be sentenced in October. He faces up to 25 years
behind bars.

The Free Press has obtained a detailed summary of the operation through an indictment filed in U.S. federal court in North Dakota. The documents give rare insight into the flow of drugs and guns into Winnipeg, where gang violence and drive-by shootings have become a frequent event in recent months.

According to police and prosecutors, Ozturk recruited Scher and his college buddy Rolle to obtain a variety of firearms from several outlets in the Minot area. Ozturk and Scher had apparently known each other for several years.

Rolle would purchase the guns and then smuggle them across the Canadian border with Scher. This was done on at least eight separate occasions and involved at least 22 semi-automatic handguns of various makes and models. They would meet Ozturk in Winnipeg and be paid with either $1,000 cash per weapon or ecstasy tablets, often in the design of popular cartoon characters like Bart Simpson.

Scher and Rolle admit they sold approximately 1,800 doses of the illegal drugs to people in North Dakota and pocketed the profits.
Rolle bought the guns from three main outlets — the Scheel’s and Sportsman’s stores in Minot and a local pawnbroker. Rolle made false statements on his firearms transaction forms.

At least one of the guns has been directly linked to a crime. A Jimenez Arms 9-mm semi-automatic pistol was purchased by Rolle from the Dak Pawnbroker in Minot and later smuggled into Canada. The gun was recovered by Winnipeg police "in relation to criminal activity on Jan. 10, 2009," according to court documents. No other details are provided.

Police learned of the conspiracy in late 2008 after a "confidential source" came forward with information. Investigators quickly set up wiretaps of phone conversations involving Scher. They also obtained video surveillance of guns being purchased in Minot.
Scher and Rolle were apprehended on Dec. 11 during a dramatic takedown by federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents outside Rolle’s home. The pair were co-operative with police and agreed to assist in the ongoing investigation. Scher began speaking with Ozturk, by text message and telephone, in conversations investigators recorded.

A meeting was set up for Jan. 22 in the parking lot of Grizzly’s Restaurant in Minot. Ozturk agreed to drive to North Dakota on the belief he was going to meet with a potential new client, as arranged by Scher. In fact, it was an undercover police officer.
Ozturk told the agent he didn’t like the Jimenez Arms guns he’d been receiving because "they jam." He asked for Sig Sauer and Beretta models. He also showed off some ecstasy samples, saying he gets his drugs from Vancouver.

"Try these ones out, the ones that I brought are white Bart Simpsons. These ones are crazy," Ozturk said. "I can get you any colour, any shape you want. I’m gonna have to know three days in advance, the guys got to ship it from Vancouver and it takes three days."

Ozturk believed he was going to trade 10,000 ecstasy tablets for 13 guns and $5,000.

"We can do this successfully for a very long time as long as we’re smart about it," he told the agent. Moments later, he was arrested.

Charges were formally laid against Scher and Rolle in February.

www.mikeoncrime.com
arielle.godbout@freepress.mb.ca

Guns purchased in North Dakota in 2008 and later smuggled into Canada:

Jan. 16 -- Beretta 92 FS from Scheel's, Minot

Jan. 27 -- Springfield XD9 from Scheel's, Minot

Mar. 25 -- Taurus PT92AF from Sportsman's, Minot

Apr. 3 -- Stoeger/Ben COU8000 from Scheel's, Minot

Apr. 25 -- Beretta 92FS from Sportsman's, Minot

May 3 -- Ruger P89 from Scheel's, Fargo

May 22 -- Ruger P8915 from Scheel's, Minot

May 23 -- Beretta PX4st from Sportsman's, Minot

June 2 -- Ruger P85 from Sportsman's, Minot

June 6 -- Smith and Wesson 9VE from Scheel's, Minot

June 20 -- Smith and Wesson 9VE from Scheel's, Minot

June 20 -- FNH FNP-9 from Sportsman's, Minot

Sept. 19 --Ruger P89 from Sportsman's, Minot

Oct. 3 -- Jimenez JA nine from Dak Pawnbroker, Minot

Oct. 3 -- Jimenez JA nine from Dak Pawnbroker, Minot

Oct. 3 -- Jimenez Nine from Dak Pawnbroker, Minot

Nov. 12 -- Jimenez JA nine from Dak Pawnbroker, Minot

Nov. 12 -- Jimenez JA nine from Dak Pawnbroker, Minot

Nov. 13 -- Jimenez JA nine from Dak Pawnbroker, Minot

Nov. 13 -- Jimenez JA nine from Dak Pawnbroker, Minot

Nov. 21 -- Jimenez JA nine from Dak Pawnbroker, Minot

Nov. 21 -- Jimenez JA nine from Dak Pawnbroker, Minot

 

 


 

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