International probe yields largest drug seizure in Manitoba RCMP history Street value of cocaine, meth, fentanyl, ecstasy estimated at $70M

The largest drug seizure in Manitoba RCMP history started with a criminal analyst noting a trend in the flow of illicit substances into southern Manitoba from North Dakota in 2018.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/03/2022 (189 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The largest drug seizure in Manitoba RCMP history started with a criminal analyst noting a trend in the flow of illicit substances into southern Manitoba from North Dakota in 2018.

It triggered a joint RCMP-Winkler Police Service probe that grew exponentially.

Arrests, charges span Manitoba, B.C.

RCMP have charged a total of 22 people. RCMP are asking anyone with information about Kramar or Ivziku to call them at 204-983-5420.

RCMP have charged a total of 22 people.

“These… Manitobans were part of the five, separate criminal organizations that we infiltrated,” said RCMP Insp. Grant Stephen. “Charges range from (Controlled Drug and Substances Act) offences, drug trafficking, possession for the purpose, organized-crime related offences, firearms-related offences, and proceeds of crime, financial integrity offences.”

Two other men are “actively evading arrest,” RCMP said. Kieffer Michael Kramar, 30, of Winnipeg, could be anywhere in Canada. Denis Ivziku, 24, is from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and is believed to still be in that area.

RCMP are asking anyone with information about Kramar or Ivziku to call them at 204-983-5420.

Others charged include:

· Enrico Funk, 29, from Friedensruh (in the RM of Stanley)

· Artjom Gotting, 32, from Winnipeg

· Nathaniel Cabal, 31, from Winnipeg

· Trinh Ducthang Dinh, 31, from Winnipeg

· Zuhair Mohammad-Zarif, 27, from Winnipeg

· Jesse James Whyte, 26, from Winnipeg

· Andre Omar Steele, 41, from Winnipeg

· Brittany Girardeau, 28, from Winnipeg

· Albert Theodore Jansen, 39, from Winnipeg

· Sharon Jonatanson, 66, from Libau

· Scott Matthew Jonatanson, 27, from Libau

· Caitlin Jones, 22, from Winnipeg

· Owen James Quesnel, 33, from Winnipeg

· William Solomon Gooding, 24, from Winnipeg

· Brian Christopher Yakimoski, 28, from Winnipeg

· Jeffrey David Gaudet, 32, from Winnipeg

· Dylan Durval South, 28, from Winnipeg

· Kelvin Lee Nelson, 27, from Burnaby, B.C.

· Mazin Nzar Zandy, 24, from Burnaby, B.C.

Stephen said those charged include alleged high-level drug traffickers, kilo-level brokers, buyers and couriers.

— Erik Pindera

Four years later, investigators have charged 22 people, including 18 Manitobans, after a massive probe that targeted and infiltrated five Canadian and international criminal networks, including one allegedly led by a full-patch member of the Hells Angels, with assistance from police agencies across Canada, the United States, Colombia and Greece.

“Mexican cartel drugs coming from either Mexico itself or Colombia were being smuggled into Canada, specifically Manitoba, and then the intelligence also suggested it was being distributed across Canada from there,” the commander of Manitoba RCMP’s federal, serious and organized crime unit, Insp. Grant Stephen, told reporters Tuesday.

“That was the nexus of our investigation.”

Insp. Grant Stephen, officer in charge of federal, serious and organized crime for the Manitoba RCMP. (Erik Pindera / Winnipeg Free Press)

Dubbed Project Divergent, the investigation involved overt and covert police tactics meant to infiltrate the five criminal networks, which were largely based out of southern Manitoba and British Columbia’s lower mainland. Stephen would not reveal details of those tactics out of operational concerns, but said: “If you can think of it, in respect to investigative techniques and strategies, we did it.”

RCMP executed nine or 10 search warrants in Winnipeg, southern Manitoba, B.C.’s lower mainland and Ottawa on Feb. 23.

“Four of the groups were largely Canadian with some having international reach — I would say the fifth criminal organization is an international organization because it was led by (a full-patch Hells Angel) with his international reach — however (it) had strong Canadian connections as well,” Stephen said.

Dozens of undercover officers and others involved in the project gathered to watch as Stephen and Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy, commanding officer of the Manitoba RCMP, spoke to reporters in the atrium of D Division’s Winnipeg headquarters near a table piled with seized drugs, guns, cash and outlaw motorcycle gang paraphernalia.

A large quantity of drugs, cash and outlaw motorcycle club patched clothing were seized as part of Project Divergent. (Erik Pindera / Winnipeg Free Press)

Investigators seized 110 kilograms of cocaine, more than 40 kilograms of methamphetamine, three kilograms of fentanyl, 500 grams of MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy or molly), 14 handguns, five semi-automatic assault-style rifles and more than $445,000 in Canadian currency.

Stephen said the drugs would be worth about $70 million on the street if broken down into one-off sale sizes. The seized weapons, some of which were being trafficked, were stored improperly.

“They were pretty much ready to go — loaded or, if they were unloaded, magazines and ammunition were found within proximity, there was no safe-storage handling techniques compliant to legislation, so no trigger locks… no compliance to separating ammunition from the firearms,” he said.

Investigation spans international borders

RCMP say the Project Divergent massive investigation required the knowledge and help of police and other agencies worldwide.

RCMP say the Project Divergent massive investigation required the knowledge and help of police and other agencies worldwide, including:

· Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia

· B.C. RCMP

· Quebec RCMP

· National Division RCMP in Ontario

· RCMP liaison officers in Bogota, Colombia; Rome, Italy; Washington; and Los Angeles

· Winkler Police Service

· Homeland Security Investigations out of Grand Forks, N.D.

· Ontario Provincial Police, biker enforcement unit, which also includes officers from the Ottawa Police Service

· Colombian National Police

· Hellenic Police in Greece

· Health Canada

· Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC)

· Forensic Accounting Management Group (FAMG)

· Public Prosecution Service of Canada

— Erik Pindera

The wide-reaching RCMP probe discovered one of the organizations was allegedly led by Damion Patrick Ryan, 41, of Ottawa — a full-patch member of the Attica Hells Angels chapter in Greece. He was arrested in Ottawa Feb. 23. The Vancouver Sun has reported Ryan is a prominent Hells Angel in British Columbia. The luxury home where he was taken into custody had recently been sold by a former British Columbia lower mainland resident with gang connections for $1.5 million, the Sun reported at the time of Ryan’s arrest, citing property records.

Ryan is charged with possession of controlled substances for the purpose of trafficking, possession of the proceeds of crime exceeding $5,000 and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence — namely that he conspired with three named and other unnamed individuals to traffic an illicit substance between Sept. 17, 2020 and Feb. 17, 2022, court documents obtained by the Free Press show. Those are the only criminal counts he’s ever faced in Manitoba. He’s also barred by court order from contacting 23 people, including many of those charged in the RCMP probe.

Kieffer Michael Kramar, 30, of Winnipeg. RCMP said he could be anywhere in Canada
Ryan is currently in custody at Milner Ridge Correctional Centre and was denied bail March 14. He’s also facing firearms offences in Ontario, Stephen said.

“Damion Ryan is likely one of the most prolific organized-crime members in our country,” Stephen said, standing beside Hells Angels clothing seized allegedly from Ryan.

Ryan is also a prominent member of the Wolf Pack, which Stephen described as the “highest-level organized criminals working together” for drug distribution within the country. It spans Canada, Stephen said, but he could not estimate the number of members.

Although the results of Project Divergent were significant, Stephen said there’s more work to be done to stem the flow of illicit drugs in Manitoba and nationwide.

“Organized crime will attempt to recover from this — and we’ll be there waiting,” he said.

erik.pindera@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @erik_pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera
Reporter

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.

History

Updated on Wednesday, March 30, 2022 1:15 PM CDT: Fixes typo

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