On Thursday, February 13, 2014, the Winnipeg Police Service held a press conference announcing the results of “Project Sideshow,” a complex drug investigation initiated in the Spring of 2012, targeting an Interprovincial Organized Crime Group.
The group is alleged to import cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy into the City of Winnipeg for further distribution.
Over the course of an eighteen (18) month period, Police utilized court authorized techniques to intercept communication between drug traffickers and to covertly observe, photograph and sample their drugs. The following was documented;
- 92 kilograms of cocaine (street value of $5,000,000.00)
- 3½ kilograms of methamphetamine (street value of $192,000.00)
- 1 kilogram of MDMA (Ecstasy) (street value of $20,000.00)
- Over $4,300,000.00 cash from proceeds of drug sales
Investigators working the project indicate the actual amounts of drugs and cash travelling back and forth are believed to far exceed the amounts they observed. Additionally, police noted evidence of money laundering where the proceeds from the sale of illicit drugs were laundered through the use of privately owned ATM machines located within local businesses.
On February 5th, 2014 nineteen (19) search warrants were executed and fourteen (14) individuals were arrested in Winnipeg and British Columbia. The following was seized:
- $301,800.00 Canadian currency
- Over 5 kilograms of Cocaine
- 1.5 kilograms of MDMA (ecstasy)
- 17 ounces of Ketamine
- 3 pounds of Cannabis Marihuana
- Over 8 kilograms cutting agent
- Drug trafficking paraphernalia (i.e. packaging materials, scales, cell phones, a vacuum sealer and a money counter)
- 9 mm semi-automatic handgun
- Sawed off 12 gauge shotgun (prohibited)
- Olympic arms assault rifle
- Ammunition and magazines
- Ballistic vest
- 9 Vehicles including one Motorcycle
- 6 ATM machines (from 4 locations)
The following suspects were arrested and charged with a variety of conspiracy, drug and firearm related offences in connection with the investigation;
- Ronald Baldovi (35) Port Coquitlam, BC
- Carol Villanueva Banayos (32) Winnipeg, MB
- Ronald George Morrison (67) Winnipeg, MB
- Rayan Dizon (35) Winnipeg, MB
- Oliver Villanueva Banayos (36) Winnipeg, MB
- Philip Manh Nguyen (28) Winnipeg, MB
- Lindsey Lafrenais (32) Winnipeg, MB
- Baljinder Singh (33) Winnipeg, MB
- Narinder Singh (39) Winnipeg, MB
- Chandeep Singh Dhaliwal (28) Howden, MB
- Timothy Fuller (46) Vancouver, BC
- Cara Melissa Smith (33) Vancouver, BC
- Vanessa Gillies (27) Toronto, ON / Winnipeg, MB
- Ryan Michael Dimaala (32) Winnipeg, MB
All but one suspect was detained at the Provincial Remand Center.
Police indicate they believe the operation has “crippled” the Organized Crime Group and are hoping a message has been sent to other like groups who participate in high level drug trafficking activities in Winnipeg.
In 2008, I accepted a position as one of the Sergeants in charge of the Organized Crime Unit.
When I accepted the position I was informed the Unit was going to depart from long-term high level drug investigations because the labour intensive operations drained Police resources and limited the Police Service’s ability to respond to lower level gang related crime.
In 2007, the City of Winnipeg experienced a major escalation of gang and gun violence in several disadvantaged communities. A significant number of shootings and murders during this time were directly related to conflict between the Indian Posse and rival street gangs.
In retrospect, many gang investigators agree that notorious Indian Posse gang leader Tyson Roulette’s rise to power could be directly attributed to the Police high-level project based approach. In other words, the Police took their “eye off the ball” when it came to the Indian Posse.
The “court authorized techniques” mentioned in the press release are commonly referred to as “sneak and peeks” in the Police vernacular.
“General Warrants,” issued by a Judge provides Police with the lawful authority to use extraordinary investigative techniques or otherwise do things described in the warrant which would normally constitute an unreasonable search or seizure. Extraordinary investigative techniques like utilizing wire taps, taking covert video and photographs or sampling narcotics.
The drugs observed, photographed and sampled are left in the possession and control of the Organized Crime Group as investigators build their case.
In November 2009, Police utilized these extraordinary investigative techniques during, “Operation Sport Track,” another highly successful Organized Crime Unit project targeting high level drug traffickers. Investigators working the project seized large quantities of cocaine, hashish, marihuana and over half a million dollars in cash. Police also seized a large quantity of jewellery and half a dozen vehicles.
The nature and quality of the evidence secured during these types of investigations generally renders accused offenders indefensible. As a result, plea bargain arrangements are often made to resolve these cases.
In 2013, Police Chief Devon Clunis re-aligned the Organized Crime Unit with the Street Crimes Unit to address the resource gaps that may have existed in the fight to combat high-level organized crime and violent street gangs. The move has been embraced by Supervisors and Investigators and is credited with improving efficiency while eliminating competing interests and overlap.
(In 2008, I recognized the need to align these Units and submitted a detailed report making the recommendation to the Police Executive. Unfortunately, Police Executives in charge at the time were resistant to change and oblivious to the realities of the street.)