Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Huge police raids target cocaine trade

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POLICE say the city's cocaine trade took a major hit yesterday when more than 100 officers fanned out across the city in 18 carefully timed early morning raids designed to snare members of a suspected Asian-based crime ring.

Police say the intent was to shut down a pipeline that originated in Vancouver and brought large amounts of cocaine and crack cocaine to Winnipeg streets. Simultaneous raids took place in Vancouver yesterday, with one arrest.

RCMP Sgt. Steve Saunders said police believe the group was involved in a network that could distribute cocaine in large quantities -- perhaps by the kilogram -- to street dealers. Twenty men and women were in custody by noon yesterday.

Their names were not released.

Those arrested in the pre-dawn raids -- called Operation Demobilize -- face a variety of charges: conspiracy to traffic in cocaine, trafficking, drug possession and commission of an offence for a criminal organization.

More information is to be released today.

Saunders said the 150 police officers involved raided homes in all parts of the city, and seized small amounts of cocaine, marijuana and steroids, as well as cash and a prohibited weapon.

However, he added what officers were really looking for was a paper trail that would let the Crown show that the accused were involved in an organized crime group that conspired to traffic in drugs.

Officers also seized 30 vehicles believed to have been used in drug transactions. The raids were carried out by the RCMP drug section, Winnipeg police and the members of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency.

A search warrant prepared by RCMP and left at one of the houses, a bright yellow home on Alexander Avenue, said officers were also looking for cellphones, pagers, scales, score sheets, drug paraphernalia, cutting agents, passports, travel documents and financial records.

The 17-year-old daughter of one of the men taken into custody told reporters police also seized her personal computer. "My dad only uses it to play solitaire," Jennifer Tat said. She identified her father as Van Tat. The search warrant, signed by a provincial court judge, identifies him as Tich Van Tat. A search warrant is not considered evidence and Tat must be considered innocent until proven otherwise.

Saunders said police couldn't comment on what specifically was seized from Tat's home or any of the other 17 addresses, as the investigation is ongoing.

Jennifer Tat also guided reporters through the family home, showing how RCMP ransacked every room looking for evidence. Clothes littered the upstairs hallway and bedrooms as police emptied out drawers and closets. Officers also dumped food and other items on the floor as they went through the kitchen.

"My dad was in handcuffs," she said. "My dad is not the kind of person to run away from a problem. If they just asked him nicely he would have co-operated. To pin him on the floor was unnecessary."

She also said police broke down the front door of the home, waking everyone up, including her grandparents, mother and younger brother and sister.

She added police ordered everyone to get up and get dressed.

"My first impression is that they were very rude," she said.

A city police drug-sniffing dog was then sent through the house and garage, she said.

As the raid was happening, RCMP from the Winnipeg drug section and the integrated proceeds of crime section executed four search warrants at three homes and one business in Vancouver. One adult male was taken into custody and a significant amount of cash seized.

It also coincided with raids in Quebec in which 23 Hells Angels associates were charged with gangsterism, conspiracy to traffic drugs and drug trafficking. Police said one of those arrested was lawyer Benoit Cliche, who appeared in court in Montreal on Monday to defend Maurice (Mom) Boucher, the Hells leader who is in prison on two first-degree murder convictions.

Saunders said the RCMP investigation in Winnipeg was not related to the one in Quebec.

The Mounties' investigation here began in March 2002. Last May, city police became involved.

Saunders said it's believed the suspects are connected to an Asian-based drug distribution network. He wouldn't comment on its leadership or scope.

He also said police do not believe the group is linked to other organized crime outfits, like the Hells Angels or aboriginal-based street gangs.

The Criminal Intelligence Service Canada's 2003 report on organized crime describes Asian-based crime groups as being highly mobile, culturally and linguistically diverse and largely composed of loosely knit networks.

The CISC report also says Asian Organized Crime (AOC) groups are entrenched in B.C., Alberta and Ontario, and are increasingly active in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, and are associated with other crime groups in the United States and Southeast Asia.

"Asian-based criminal groups are entrepreneurial and are often involved in multiple criminal activities simultaneously," the report says.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 6, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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