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Tech key to investigation

Documents reveal details of police tactics

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Staff Sgt. Rob Harding with some of the items seized as a result of the year-long Project Sideshow, which saw 14 people arrested.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Staff Sgt. Rob Harding with some of the items seized as a result of the year-long Project Sideshow, which saw 14 people arrested. Photo Store

It is believed to be the largest, most elaborate undercover investigation ever tackled by Winnipeg police.

Now details of how officers took down a multimillion-dollar drug-trafficking network last week have become public through hundreds of pages of court documents released Tuesday.

The affidavits, which were used to obtain arrest warrants for 14 accused, document every step of the nearly two-year-long probe dubbed Project Sideshow.

Among the more revealing details:

  • Police monitored and intercepted more than 300,000 separate communications -- phone calls, texts and emails -- between January and December 2013. Police say this number would have been much higher if not for the fact many of their targets relied on "encrypted communication devices... demonstrating their high level of sophistication."
  • Police began focusing on two different Winnipeg-based drug "cells" in the spring of 2012, but found plenty of crossover and interaction between them. One cell stretched west to British Columbia, while the other headed east to Ontario. Both are connected to Asian organized crime.
  • Police regularly observed multiple kilograms of cocaine being smuggled from Vancouver to Winnipeg, often hidden inside the luggage of trusted couriers. Police obtained warrants that allowed them to secretly search the luggage at airports, documenting the contents before allowing it to continue on its way.
  • Multiple kilograms of cocaine were frequently driven into Manitoba, both from B.C. and Ontario, and the drivers would use covert techniques to hide it inside the vehicle to avoid detection should they be stopped by police.
  • An apartment on Market Avenue in Winnipeg was used as a "stash house" for drugs and weapons. Police obtained warrants to allow them to "sneak and peek" inside the residence on several occasions to document what was happening inside there.
  • Police hid video cameras inside the homes and hotel rooms of several targets after getting legal authority to do so.
  • Police obtained production orders to look into the banking records of some accused.
  • Police obtained four tracking warrants, which allowed them to place devices on target vehicles to monitor their movements.
  • Six different automated teller machines were installed across the city by the accused as a means of laundering hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of proceeds of drug sales.

It's clear technology played a vital role in the investigation, which culminated in 19 search warrants being executed last week in Manitoba and British Columbia. All 14 accused are now facing dozens of drug, weapons and conspiracy-related charges.

In total, police say they documented 92 kg of cocaine with a street value of $5 million, 31/2 kg of methamphetamine with a street value of $192,000, one kg of ecstasy with a street value of $20,000 and more than $4.3 million in cash believed to be from proceeds of drug sales.

The actual amounts of drugs and cash exchanged are believed to far exceed the amounts observed, police say. Officers were only able to seize a small amount of what they saw, as they couldn't risk jeopardizing the investigation.

In the documents released Tuesday, police provide a flowchart that shows the level of suspected involvement from all 14 accused and how they are linked to the two targeted cells. There are also itemized lists of drugs and weapons police observed and documented during the investigation.

In previous covert sting operations such as this, the vast majority of accused end up striking deals to plead guilty, knowing fighting these air-tight cases at trial would be futile.

Only time will tell if that's the end result of this case, which police say involved a greater volume of criminal activity and drug and weapons trafficking than anything they've previously seen.

www.mikeoncrime.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 19, 2014 A3

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