VANCOUVER - An RCMP drug investigation that took nearly two years and involved authorities from Canada, the U.S., Panama and Mexico has resulted in charges against eight people, including some top members from the Hells Angels motorcycle gang in British Columbia.
The lengthy investigation, known as E-Predicate, led police to search five locations around B.C. over the weekend. The Hells Angels' clubhouse in Kelowna was among the police targets.
Officers seized an assault rifle, handguns and nearly $4 million in cash. Mounds of that cash — some of it mouldy — was on display as Supt. Brian Cantera of the RCMP Drug Enforcement Branch in B.C. announced the charges to reporters on Monday.
"This investigation highlights the RCMP's international reach in the pursuit of evidence and the continuing requirement to apply a global approach to the drug enforcement challenge," Cantera said.
David Giles, a well-known vice president of the motorcycle gang's Kelowna chapter, was one of seven people arrested Saturday. Police say he was picked up in a Metro-Vancouver casino, and is now charged with conspiracy to import and traffic cocaine.
Kevin Van Kalkeren, Michael Read, James Howard, Orhan Saydam, Murray Trekofski, and Shawn Womacks are all also facing various drug charges in relation to Saturdays' arrests.
Brian Oldham was also charged, but he remains at large, and a Canada-wide warrant has been issued for his arrest.
"This investigation demonstrated how organized criminal groups engaged in drug trafficking have no respect for municipal, provincial or international borders," said Cantera.
"More concerning is the complete disregard these groups show for Canadian families and public safety, both of which pay the devastating price exacted for criminal profits."
Cantera said the multi-jurisdictional investigation started in January 2011, when RCMP were looking into allegations that marijuana was being produced and trafficked in southeastern B.C.
Police then received information indicating that members of the Hells Angels were prepared to import and traffic 500 kilograms of cocaine.
Four years ago, a B.C. Supreme Court judge acquitted Giles of possessing cocaine and of having committed the offence for a criminal organization.
The charges were laid after police seized drugs in a 2005 raid dubbed E-Pandora. His two co-accused were convicted and given prison time.
Judge Anne MacKenzie ruled there was no evidence that Giles ever handled the cocaine in question, and little evidence that he possessed the drugs.
Cantera would not elaborate on the recent 20-month investigation which involved infiltration, surveillance and tapping of personal communications. But he says he is confident of the quality of the gathered evidence.
“This case represents a blueprint of the majority of Canadian-based organized crime groups in their search for profits," he said.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Wayne Rideout said the weekend arrests are significant, but the fight against organized crime is far from over.
"The reality is there is a great deal of this activity going on out there, but the goal is to really look at who is driving the . . . organized crime activity that then drives the violence, and through intelligence-gathering, through targeting, to really go after the people who are driving the violence," he said.
Kelowna RCMP Supt. Bill MacKinnon said Saturday's arrests of some of the Hells Angels most senior members have a huge implication for Kelowna, a city where he says eight organized crime groups have "firmly entrenched themselves in the community."
"I suspect many illicit drugs they were involved in were coming to Kelowna and throughout the Okanagan," he said in an interview.