A dangerous Winnipeg street gang that specializes in recruiting and corrupting young African immigrants has taken a major hit following an undercover police project.
But investigators aren't declaring anything but a temporary victory, admitting rival criminal outlets will likely step up their attempts to fill the void and cash in on the ever-present demand for drugs.
On Monday, Staff Sgt. Max Waddell of the Winnipeg Police Service street crime unit said an escalation in violence sometimes follows targeted blitzes. "We're certainly aware that is a possibility," he said.
"Project Recall" began in February and culminated last week with the arrest of 11 key members of the Mad Cowz gang. A warrant has been issued for one other accused, and the investigation remains active.
"This is going to have a significant impact on the Mad Cow street gang," Waddell said Monday. But he admitted the gang has proven very resourceful at finding new members and wouldn't suggest they are down for the count.
That's especially true given the number of teens who are often pressured into joining the Mad Cowz, many of them being new arrivals to Canada who are struggling to learn the language and culture after fleeing their war-torn homeland where they've already been subjected to plenty of violence.
In Project Recall, five of the accused are youths between the ages of 16 and 17.
"It's an unfortunate reality that we do see young people getting caught up in this lifestyle," said Waddell.
Police seized two high-powered shotguns and approximately 80 rounds of ammunition. A forensic review is now underway to determine where the guns came from and whether they have been used in any crimes. Sources told the Free Press there's a high probability they have, given the spate of drive-by shootings in the city in recent years.
Charges against the gang members include trafficking cocaine and possessing proceeds of crime. Eight of the 12 accused are also accused of breaching existing court orders, suggesting they are no strangers to the justice system.
Police say they were going after the main street-level drug dealers within the Mad Cowz.
Waddell was tight-lipped about specifics of the investigation and whether they utilized a police agent or undercover investigators.
"We had intelligence that led us to this investigation," he said.
The Mad Cowz have a lengthy and tragic history in Winnipeg.
As a boy in Somalia, Yassim Ibrahim saw his father murdered. He immigrated to Winnipeg in 1999 with his mother and four siblings, and in less than 10 years, at age 23, he was the godfather of the Mad Cowz. His criminal record included the attempted murder of a rival gang member. Ibrahim was deported back to Somalia.
"I was a beautiful kid who had a dream at one time to be a doctor. But I became a street hustler, selling crack," Ibrahim told the Free Press at the time.
Justice officials have told the Free Press impressionable African youths are often lured into the Mad Cowz lifestyle with promises of social status and money.