Pubdate: Sat, 13 Dec 2014
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2014 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Kim Bolan
Page: A18

Cartel Connection: Day 2


Undercover agents posing as drug kingpins. Cartel reps exchanging
hockey bags full of money. A west-side kid who moved money for the

Ariel Julian Savein would drive to classes at Vancouver's Point Grey
secondary a decade ago in his father's green BMW.

In his 2003 graduation yearbook, Savein thanked his parents and
teachers for getting him through school: "Looking back, it's hard to
put things in perspective but I think I've learned a lot."

His privileged existence was dramatically different from those 3,000
kilometres away in rugged Culiacan, Mexico, headquarters of the
world's most powerful drug trafficking organization.

The Vancouver Sun has traced how these two worlds collided on the
streets of Metro Vancouver, where millions of dollars in dirty money
owned by the Sinaloa and La Familia cartels was laundered.

Millions flowed into the bank account of Sinaloa kingpin Joaquin
Guzman, known colloquially as El Chapo or Shorty.

Some cartel cash was delivered by Savein.

Vancouver money even ended up in Colombia and Ecuador, where Sinaloa
brokers used it to purchase thousands of kilograms of cocaine.

The Vancouver connection is detailed in several U. S. criminal
prosecutions of drugtraffickers, smugglers and money launderers linked
to both the Sinaloa and La Familia cartels.

Hockey bags full of cash handed over in Metro Vancouver mall parking
lots. Cartel frontmen posing as simple house cleaners. Cryptic emails
arranging pickups using code phrases like "Looking for Ernie on behalf
of Bert" and references to Guzman himself as the "strongest one from

Five of those indicted in the U. S. - Savein and four Mexicans - were
arrested in Vancouver and Montreal in 2011.

Savein, now 30, fought his extradition for more than three years
before the B. C. Court of Appeal recently ordered him to surrender to
American authorities.

He was flown to San Diego in early September on money laundering
charges. Despite his initial proclamation of innocence, he pleaded
guilty Sept. 30 and is to be sentenced in early 2015. Like others in
the Sinaloa investigation, details of Savein's plea bargain with U. S.
authorities have been sealed.

But The Sun has pieced together the story of the cartel's Canadian
connections from court documents in related cases, as well as source
information and interviews.

Savein's world began to unravel four years ago in the parking lot of
the Rona Home & Garden store on Grandview Highway in east Vancouver.

The young man went there in April 2010 with $ 811,850 stuffed in bags
to meet someone he thought was a gangster working for a Mexican cartel.

In fact, the man who collected the bags of cash that day was an
undercover Vancouver police officer working with the U. S. Drug
Enforcement Administration ( DEA).

So how did Savein get involved with a notorious foreign

His high school years were uneventful, according to several former
classmates who didn't want to be identified.

He projected a tough-guy image and was voted one of the most
"hardcore" in his Grade 12 class.

"I can't see myself missing this place much but Point Grey wasn't all
that bad," he wrote in his 2003 yearbook comment.

One friend who asked that his name not be used said Savein left for
university in the east, but he wasn't sure where. Within a couple of
years, however, Savein was back in B. C. and already on Vancouver
police radar.

He was suspected in a lottery scam that targeted British seniors
through the mail, asking them to pay service charges in the thousands
to collect even bigger prizes.

The VPD investigated the fraudulent telemarketing scheme in 2006,
according to a suit filed against Savein by the B. C. director of
civil forfeiture.

"Savein operated a fictitious lottery sweepstakes competition. The
scheme involved sending a bait letter to prospective victims whereby
the victims were enticed into registering for a fictitious lottery
sweepstakes draw to be made subsequent to registration," the statement
of claim alleged.

The VPD set up an elaborate sting to crack the scheme, sending an
officer to the U. K. to pose as a potential victim. The police traced
the ensuing money transfers to a computer in a Yaletown Internet cafe.

Savein was seen at the cafe accessing the money orders on March 13,

He was arrested the same day. Vancouver police searched his apartment
on the 21st floor of 939 Expo Blvd. and found a safe containing $ 68,109.

While he was never charged, the B. C. government took him to court to
get the cash, saying it was clearly connected to criminal activity and
should be forfeited.

Savein filed a statement of defence, denying all the allegations. But
he settled a few months later, with twothirds of the cash going to
Victoria and the rest returned to Savein through his lawyer.

At some point, Savein connected with gangster Shane ( Wheels) Maloney,
a former Burnaby resident and member of Montreal's West End gang.
Maloney was charged two years ago along with a B. C. Hells Angel and
another man as alleged kingpins in a cross-country cocaine ring that
worked closely with Mexican cartels. A document obtained by The Sun
shows that Maloney, Savein and three Mexicans involved in the
Vancouver cartel transactions are all listed associates of Montreal's
premier pot smuggler Jimmy Cournoyer, who a New York judge sentenced
to 27 years in August for running a major international drug ring
linked to the Hells Angels, the Mafia and the Sinaloa cartel.

Vancouver a lucrative market

Vancouver is one of the most lucrative drug markets in the world,
police sources say, with millions and millions flowing into the hands
of mid-level gangs and those above them who supply their cocaine and
other drugs.

Think of a pyramid with major criminal organizations like the Sinaloa
cartel at the top and those working on Metro Vancouver streets doing
deliveries for dial- a-dope operators at the bottom.

In between are B. C. gangs like the Hells Angels, the Independent
Soldiers and the United Nations.

When the international suppliers want their cash, soldiers like Savein
working for the mid-level traffickers scramble to collect from those
under them selling their products.

Moving the drug profits across international boundaries without being
intercepted by authorities has always been a challenge for organized

The DEA exploited that weakness and pulled off a spectacular ruse,
despite the wealth and sophistication of the murderous Sinaloa cartel.
An undercover DEA agent dubbed Jose posed as the manager of a
worldwide criminal organization that could transport tons of cocaine
and launder tens of millions of dollars undetected.

When Savein and Mexicans Carlos Camet and Adalberto Urbina were
dropping off millions in Metro Vancouver parking lots in 2010, they
had no idea the DEA was well into a multicontinent investigation of
the Sinaloa gang.

The probe focused on Victor Manuel Felix- Felix, known as El Senor -
the Lord. His daughter is married to Guzman's son and he's a close
confidante of the cartel boss, as well as a principal Sinaloa
financier. He's now in jail in Mexico, fighting extradition to the U.
S., where he is charged on the same indictment as Savein and 23 others.

For two years, the DEA agent arranged pickups of cartel money in
Vancouver, Montreal and across the U. S. He later deposited the cash,
minus his "fee," into bank accounts specified by Sinaloa and La
Familia representatives or - when requested - delivered it in person
to Mexico and even Colombia.

By the time the arrests went down in March and July 2011, the DEA had
seized more than $ 6 million in drug proceeds and more than 6,700
kilograms of cocaine.

Cartels set up shop

Jose first learned of the Sinaloa's B. C. links in December 2009 when
one of his new underworld contacts told him she had a client who had $
100 million Canadian that he needed converted into U. S. dollars and
moved from Vancouver and Toronto to Mexico City.

As the DEA agent brokered more deals with the cartel, police monitored
the money transfers to gangs and groups across North America,
including the Vancouver couriers. Jose's DEA counterparts in B. C.
brought in Vancouver Police. Investigators learned the cartel had sent
Camet and Urbina to set up shop in Vancouver, where the two Mexicans
worked with Savein and others still unidentified to move mountains of
drug money.

A Sinaloa rep in Mexico named Rodrigo Colmenares was pulling the
strings of the Canadian operation - contacting the couriers in
Vancouver and other cities directly and passing along their
information to the DEA agent. On April 10, Colmenares told the agent
to collect $ 1 million in Vancouver. He said the cash belonged to La
Familia - a smaller cartel with close ties to Sinaloa.

Colmenares called Savein into action, unwittingly putting the
Vancouver native in contact with an undercover VPD officer.

On the morning of the drop, Savein confessed over the phone to the cop
that he was nervous about having "all this stuff."

At 10: 26 a. m., the pair met in the parking lot of Rona Home & Garden
in east Vancouver. Savein gave the cop a duffel bag and two cloth
shopping bags containing $ 811,850 in Canadian and $ 100 U. S.

Savein was worried that someone would see the money sticking out of
the top of one of the shopping bags that couldn't be closed.

Over the course of several months, the DEA agent and his Sinaloa
contacts continued to call, email and meet - in Canada, California,
the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador.

Of the $ 8 million in cartel cash collected by undercover police in
Canada during the probe, almost $ 7 million of it was delivered by
Vancouver couriers. Colmenares, the Mexican puppet master, would snap
his fingers and the B. C. cash would be pulled together and driven to
parking lots - Rona, Superstore, a mall on Cambie Street - in amounts
ranging from a few hundred thousand to more than $ 3 million.

In one of several clandestine operations outlined in court documents,
Camet and Urbina arrived in June 2010 at a Safeway on Kingsway in east
Vancouver and handed the undercover Vancouver cop a heavy duffel bag
containing $ 524,020 in Canadian currency.

When the cop asked if the bag was "all of it," Urbina said they were
"a little short."

The officer asked the pair how much money was missing. Urbina pulled
out a laptop computer and showed the officer an Excel spreadsheet
detailing more than half a million dollars.

Colmenares told the DEA agent to transport money picked up in Canada
and New York to Mexico City so it could be used to pay for cocaine
sitting in Ecuador waiting to be smuggled north.

There was still more than $ 3 million of Sinaloa money to be collected
in Vancouver.

A few months later, in October 2010, Camet and Urbina got a call from
Mexico telling them their services were needed again. They rented a
car, ditched their regular cleaning jobs and headed to Burnaby's
Lougheed Mall.

In the mall parking lot, they met a man who drove with them to the
underground lot of his apartment building on Gildwood Drive. There he
took three black hockey bags out of his vehicle and put them in the
rental car. The Mexicans drove away with more than $ 3.2 million in
the trunk.

Even the veteran money launderers were nervous about having so much
cash on them. They weren't supposed to drop it off until the following
day. But neither wanted to take it home. So they rented a room at a
downtown Vancouver hotel and parked the rental car, with millions
inside, in the underground lot.

They headed to their own apartments for the night and returned the
next day to get the car.

Camet went alone to a mall on Cambie Street to deliver the hockey bags
to the undercover VPD officer. They contained $ 3,291,970 Canadian and
$ 8,060 U. S. - the money the Sinaloa cartel needed to move four tons
of cocaine from South America to their northern markets.

With all the cash in place, FelixFelix called the agent directly and
said he was sending high-ranking Sinaloa contacts to Ecuador to
prepare the cocaine, which he expected the agent to be ready to move
by early November.

The agent flew to Ecuador and told Felix- Felix's men he was ready to
receive their cocaine. But the DEA was also making arrangements with
the Ecuadorean National Police, who seized a cargo truck carrying more
than 2,500 kilograms of cocaine.

Undeterred, the Sinaloa cartel continued collecting large quantities
of drug money across the U. S. and in Canada. Another $ 1 million was
transported from Vancouver to Colombia. But again, it was a
doublecross. As the money was being driven to Cali, it was intercepted
by the Colombian National Police.

The seizures of both cash and cocaine in South America didn't seem to
affect the cartel's resolve to keep the drugs and money flowing north
and south. Felix- Felix had no idea his massive international network
was about to collapse and he was weeks away from capture.

In March 2011, Jose received an email from Felix- Felix. It said the
"contract had been signed" - meaning the cocaine had been delivered in

The Sinaloa money man known as "The Lord" ended his message to the man
who would bring him down with a simple: "God Bless You."

The next day Felix- Felix, Colmenares and 16 of their Sinaloa
associates were arrested in Mexico.

Police question cartel men

Vancouver police picked up Camet and Urbina on July 19, 2011 as part
of a North America-wide sweep by law enforcement of the cartel's
suspected money launderers.

The two Mexicans were questioned days later while they were jailed at
the North Fraser Pretrial Centre.

The Sun obtained transcripts of those interviews, which provide
fascinating insight into the scope of the DEA investigation and the
VPD's role in it.

"We've been watching you," Det. Derek Hill told Urbina. "We've been
using helicopters, lots of police officers. Okay. So we know you've
been involved here."

Urbina, who was then 27, told the three VPD detectives that he was
"very afraid."

He said he wanted to cooperate but was worried something would happen
to his family in Mexico.

"They're just going to make disappear my family," he said,

The police tried to reassure him that all the key Sinaloa players were
in jail in Mexico, with limited ability to retaliate.

"If it's not your money, then you need to let us know where it came
from," Hill said. "Right now it looks like it's your money and you're
a big drug trafficker from the Sinaloa cartel."

Urbina broke down again as he explained that things are different in
Mexico, that police aren't "honest" like in Canada.

"If I tell you exactly what I know, I think or I believe that you
don't really understand what's going to happen," he said, sobbing again.

His mom, sister and girlfriend could be kidnapped, mistreated or even
killed, Urbina said.

He finally admitted that he knew Rodrigo Colmenares through an old
friend in his hometown in Mexico.

Det. Scott Rollins said Colmenares claimed to police in Mexico that he
sent Camet and Urbina to Vancouver "to help him move money from Canada
to the United States." "That's not true," Urbina said. He came to
Canada in 2008 because he wanted a better life, not to work for a
Mexican cartel, he said.

"I've been working here hard for over three years, cleaning toilets,
cleaning all the poop from dogs, cleaning and giving my best to all
the persons in Canada."

Camet, then 36, was interviewed two days later at North Fraser by the
same detectives. He came to Canada legally in November 2009 and met
Urbina at the company where they both worked as cleaners, he said.

Camet claimed he made a few hundred dollars every time he delivered
the cash. He knew it was "dirty money" but not that it was linked to
drug cartels.

Rollins commented on the huge amounts of cash dropped off by

"It was $ 6.1 million. It's a lot of money, right?"

Camet agreed: "It's not easy to clean this money right? If I go to the
bank with six millions and put in my account, they arrest me this moment."

Rollins said VPD wanted to "focus on the people that live in Canada
that are doing the crimes, bringing the drugs."

Camet said he didn't know anything and never asked about the source of
the millions.

He told police he wanted to stay in Canada and not be sent to the U.
S. to face prosecution.

"Do you think I can get my life back in Canada ? if the police catch
the big fish?" he asked.

Rollins suggested Camet was minimizing his role. He said police found
a money-counting machine and a closet full of suitcases that could
have been for future cash transfers when they searched Camet's apartment.

Rollins noted that Camet used an alias - Rocky - and that he and
Urbina rented cars and bought payasyou-go phones "to avoid police 

Said Rollins: "Everything about these transfers, these money 
transactions, to me even if I wasn't a police officer, looks bad."

Camet and Urbina were extradited to the U. S. where both pleaded
guilty last year. They were sentenced to 46 months each.

Savein was arrested on July 31, 2011.

He will be sentenced in San Diego on Jan. 12 by U. S. District Court
Judge Marilyn L. Huff. The maximum penalty for money laundering is 20
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt