Pubdate: Tue, 05 Aug 2014
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2014 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Tu Thanh Ha
Page: A4


U.S. federal prosecutors want a stiff sentence for Quebecker Jimmy
Cournoyer, who they say has ties to four criminal syndicates

Gone are the jet-setting days when Jimmy Cournoyer acted like a
playboy businessman, dating a fashion model, vacationing in Ibiza and
clubbing with his buddy and sparring partner, Georges St-Pierre.

Now, having pleaded guilty in a Brooklyn court to eight criminal
counts, the 34-year-old Quebec man is waiting to find out if the judge
will accept his claim that he is a run-of-the-mill marijuana
trafficker who had no dealings with mobsters.

But U.S. federal prosecutors want a stiff sentence, saying Mr.
Cournoyer is an independent kingpin who, in a rapid rise, established
working ties with four major crime syndicates: the Hells Angels, the
Rizzuto clan in Montreal, the Bonanno family in New York and Mexico's
Sinaloa cartel.

He is accused of importing nearly a billion dollars worth of marijuana
into the United States in a continent-wide scheme. His men are alleged
to have smuggled British Columbia marijuana to New York via the
Akwesasne Mohawk reserve, the proceeds then laundered by couriers who
hauled bags of cash by private plane to California to purchase Mexican
cocaine that was exported to Canada.

"From the humble beginning of growing marijuana in his apartment at
the age of 18, Jimmy Cournoyer spent the next [15] years building a
vast criminal network that spanned international borders, had ties to
some of the most violent and powerful organized crime groups in the
world, and generated more revenue than the GDP of a small country,"
prosecutors allege in court filings.

Mr. Cournoyer is to be sentenced Aug. 20.

In a bid to lessen his sentence, he submitted letters of support,
including one from Mr. St-Pierre, a retired martial-arts champion and
fellow Quebecker. "We travelled together, we trained together, we were
going to restaurants, clubs and having a lot of fun. Jimmy is a very
loyal friend," Mr. St-Pierre wrote.

Other letters described Mr. Cournoyer as an athletic, middleclass kid
from Laval, a suburb north of Montreal. They said he turned rebellious
as a teen after his father, a construction entrepreneur, went bankrupt
and left the family.

His trafficking career began when he was 18 and he ran a hydroponic
grow-op in an apartment he shared with his brother Joey. He was
sentenced to two years of probation.

While on probation, he was arrested for selling marijuana to a
smuggler in the Mohawk community of Kanesatake, near Oka. Next, Peel
Regional Police caught him in a Toronto hotel as he peddled 10,000
ecstasy pills.

He got a three-year sentence. Out on parole in February, 2007, he
arranged meetings with his accomplices in the Montreal subway while he
commuted between his halfway house and his daytime job, court
documents allege.

Prosecutors said he met with the Hells Angels and with high ranking
members of the clan of Montreal Mafia godfather Vito Rizzuto to secure
their partnership. Following the meetings, Mr. Cournoyer repeatedly
told his associates that he was "backed by the Italians," the
prosecution alleges in court filings that also reveal he was
ultimately betrayed by one of his confidants.

In the following years, the court files allege, Mr. Cournoyer expanded
his criminal empire, working with the Hells Angels to transport tonnes
of marijuana from outdoor growers in B.C. to Montreal. The drugs were
shipped to New York and hidden in garages in Brooklyn and Queens,
before they were resold by John Venizelos, described in court
documents as an associate of the Bonanno crime family.

In total, the prosecution said, Mr. Cournoyer trafficked more than 100
tonnes of marijuana, 83 kilograms of cocaine and 60,000 ecstasy pills.
The indictment against him says he earned a total gross revenue of

Proceeds were flown to California, using private chartered aircraft
taking off from small airports in Long Island and New Jersey,
according to court documents. The prosecution said Mr. Cournoyer's
money was laundered in California by a Montrealer, Alessandro Taloni.

Mr. Taloni pleaded guilty and got a 10-year sentence last May, despite
including a printed blessing from former pope Benedict XVI in his
presentencing submissions.

Mr. Cournoyer and his associates used encrypted BlackBerry devices to
communicate, court documents said. They were unaware police in both
the U.S. and Canada were able to decipher those communications.

Mr. Cournoyer, meanwhile, kept the appearances of a fun-loving
property manager. He dated Amelia Racine, a Brazilian-born model who
is the sister of his alleged right-hand man, Mario Racine. Her name is
among a list of associates the prosecution filed in court. Also on the
list: Mr. Rizzuto and Hells Angels kingpin Maurice (Mom) Boucher.

In January, 2002, a Brooklyn grand jury returned an indictment against
Mr. Cournoyer and an international arrest warrant was issued.

Weeks later, when he flew from Montreal to Cancun, he was denied entry
and taken into custody. Guards hooded and shackled him, then bundled
him onto a plane bound for Houston. He was then transferred to the
Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

Faced with the prospect of a life sentence, Mr. Cournoyer pleaded
guilty last May, just before his trial was to start.

He is seeking a sentence of 20 years and plans to apply to be
transferred to a Canadian penitentiary. The prosecution asked for a
30-year term to compensate for the fact that Canadian inmates are
eligible for parole sooner. The prosecution said Mr. Cournoyer wasn't
a benign trafficker but a violent man who didn't shy from ordering his
underlings to kidnap and beat women to collect drug debts.

Prosecutors produced an intercepted BlackBerry message that suggested
Mr. Cournoyer had a $2-million fund to kill co-operating witnesses, an
allegation his lawyer staunchly denied.
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