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Staff Inspector Dan Hayes, head of the Toronto police drug squad, said investigators found that drug criminals were using airport workers in Trinidad to conceal narcotics in cargo containers on commercial flights to Toronto.
He said the group also had people working for them at Pearson International Airport who would remove the drugs from the aircraft, then deliver them to members of the criminal organization in Toronto. "It was an elaborate scheme," Hayes said during a news conference at Toronto police headquarters Thursday where cocaine, heroin and hashish oil with a street value of about $35 million, which had been seized in raids earlier in the day, was on display and under guard.
Hayes said a joint forces investigation involving undercover officers from Toronto, Peel, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canada Customs spent the past several months monitoring drug shipments from various parts of the Caribbean.
The investigation culminated with the arrest of nine people yesterday. Warrants have been issued for six others.
Police also seized $303,000 in Canadian cash and another $520,000 in U.S. currency and will attempt to seize a number of luxury vehicles and homes in Canada and Jamaica under proceeds of crime legislation.
Last April, police in Trinidad arrested a ramp attendant at the island country's international airport as he was putting 10.5 kilograms of cocaine and a kilogram of heroin aboard an aircraft. At the same time, members of the joint forces team in Toronto were able to identify "co-conspirators" involved in drug smuggling between Trinidad and Toronto.
A month later, the team seized a quantity of hash oil from another group set up to smuggle drugs from Montego Bay, Jamaica to Toronto and a short time later learned another 102 kilograms of cocaine was being concealed in cargo containers in Trinidad for shipment here on two different flights.
Hayes said 42 kilograms of cocaine was found hidden in a false compartment of one cargo bin and another 60 kilograms of cocaine was hidden in the false roof of another.
He said investigators found high school buddies of the drug traffickers had been paid $5,000 to take luggage laden with drugs back to Toronto after a holiday in Georgetown, Guyana.
The drug mules were also provided with cellphones and told to call a special number when they arrived in Toronto to get a code word and the location of a Canada Customs agent who would get them into the country without having their luggage searched.
In May, two young Toronto women were arrested by authorities in Guyana for attempting to smuggle 46 kilograms of cocaine to Canada.
Hayes said three people were initially arrested and some 45 kilograms of cocaine seized in Toronto after flights from destinations in the West Indies.
"Investigation showed the couriers were recruited and dispatched by an internationally organized group of individuals that became the focus of the investigation," he said.
Police also discovered that quantities of marijuana were being exported to Bermuda from Toronto in small appliances.
The drug probe began, Hayes said, when intelligence units at the airport noticed a dramatic increase in drug smuggling in the spring of last year. They found organized criminals were smuggling drugs from source countries in South America through the Caribbean to Pearson airport.
"Two separate and independent investigations into the importation and distribution of drugs were commenced over a six-month period," he said.
Using 30 undercover police officers, the investigations - code-named Project Lester and Project Gallito - identified a number of people involved in the smuggling operations, including two employees at Pearson and a Canada Customs agent.
Hayes said officers learned kingpins in the smuggling operation were offering $5,000 to people they knew from high school to travel to places in the Caribbean and bring back drugs.
Hayes said the investigation also uncovered evidence of a murder plot in which drug dealers in Antigua were planning to kill the leader of a rival trafficking operation.
"The authorities in the Caribbean were notified and are involved in the continuing investigation," he said. Michael Wayne Streete, 42, of Canlish Rd., Chester Stewart, 39, of White Oaks Dr., Whitby, Steven Forsythe, 44, of Canwith Dr., Whitby, and Dexter Griffith, 31, of Murray Ross Parkway were arrested after police staged a series of raids at homes throughout the Greater Toronto Area. They face charges of conspiracy to import cocaine into Canada and numerous other drug trafficking charges
Andrene Whittaker, 20, of Mississauga Valley Blvd., Mississauga, who had worked as a Canada Customs agent at Pearson International Airport, was charged with breach of trust and conspiracy to import cocaine.
Natalie Morgan, 20, and Jahnoi Beckford, 19, both of Toronto, were charged with importing narcotics.
Warrants have been issued for John Philmore, Brian Charles and Lindon James, all of Trinidad, and Donald Burns Salmon of Toronto and Natasha Lewis of Guyana for conspiracy to import drugs.
Two Mississauga men, Rayon Santo, 33, of Constitution Blvd. and Vinroy Carnakie, 30, of Hurontario St. were charged with conspiracy to import drugs and laundering the proceeds of crime. Santo also faces a charge of conspiracy to commit murder.
Police said a warrant has also been issued for Mark Anthony Allen of Frontier Ridge in Mississauga on charges of conspiracy to import cocaine and possession of the proceeds of crime.