Pubdate: Fri, 01 Sep 2017
Source: Enterprise-Bulletin, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017, Collingwood Enterprise Bulletin
Author: Patrick Bales
Page: B5


Largest drug seizure in OPP history has three men facing charges

ORILLIA - The OPP showed off the largest ever drug seizure of its
nearly 110- year history Monday morning.

Three men have been arrested, accused of importing 1,062 kilograms of
pure cocaine. The drugs were displayed by police during a press
conference in four specially constructed glass containers, each with a
dimension of about four feet tall by eight feet wide.

"This is a massive seizure, bigger than I've ever seen in my 33 years
of policing," OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes said during the press
conference at OPP Headquarters in Orillia.

Uncut, the cocaine - said to be 97% pure - is estimated to be worth
about $ 60 million. Cut and on the street, police say the value sky
rockets to at least $ 250 million.

Typically, cocaine found on the street is about 30- 40% pure, OPP
Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum explained. Once cut and supplemented
with filling agents, such as fentanyl, the amount of product increases
to between 2,122 and 3,183 kilograms.

Police say the cocaine was brought to Canada from Argentina via ocean-
going vessels. It would arrive in Montreal disguised in garden stones
and transported into Ontario, where it would be distributed throughout
the province and the entire country.

"This such a large amount that - cut several thousands and thousands
of times - results in a lot of product that could be on the street,"
Hawkes said. "More product than we'd see just for Ontario."

The stones would be transported on palates, inside 40 foot long
containers, each stacked about four-to-five feet high. Mixed in
among legitimate quartzite, random stones would be slightly hollowed
out and filled with cocaine, before being resealed with concrete.

The discovery of the cocaine was not made by Canadian Border Service
Agency (CBSA) drug dogs, but rather through a number of other
investigative methods. Once seized, the dogs were used to see if they
could sniff out the contraband, and were unsuccessful.

Barnum called the people behind the operation professionals. Without
the investigative phase, it would have been "near impossible" to know
there was any cocaine being smuggled at all.

"( The dogs) do amazing work, they really do," Barnum said. "In this
case, inside ( the stones)... there was other masking substances on
there to throw a scent. Once you seal it up and pile a bunch of other
rocks around, you're not going to get that."

Project HOPE began in March as an intelligence operation, Barnum said,
with the first two accused arrested in May. The third accused was
arrested in July.

With the investigation, police were focusing on persons who were
bringing the cocaine the Greater Toronto Area. What they soon
discovered was what Barnum called "an intercontinental smuggling
operation," later confirmed to have connections to Mexican drug cartels.

It isn't the first time the Mexican cartels have found a foothold in
Ontario, the commissioner confirmed.

"We've seen that before, where there's a connection to Mexico and
South America," Hawkes said. "That's normal for our investigators who
do this on a regular basis."

Barnum explained during the question and answer portion of the press
conference how Argentina isn't known as a cocaine-producing country,
and suggested it is merely a transportation link in this case.
However, he couldn't elaborate on the specific origin of the seized

Police believe the operation began in 2014, and are trying to
determine how much cocaine would have entered the country during the
last three years through the three accused.

The first two men charged were arrested after a traffic stop on
Highway 410 May 1. The third was OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes, left,
and Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum hold a hollowed-out quartzite
stone police say was used to smuggle cocaine into Canada from South
America. They posed for the media in attendance at a Monday morning
press conference in front of a wall created by 1,062 kilograms of
cocaine seized recently by the OPP. arrested July 10. The
investigation led police to find the cocaine in a warehouse in
Montreal, as well as a location in Stoney Creek.

The cocaine was not all seized at once, Hawkes said. The amount on
display Monday was the end result of a number of different seizures as
the investigation has progressed.

Luis Enrique Karim-Altamirano, 52, of Vaughan, Mauricio Antonio
Medina-Gatica, 36, of Brampton and Iban Orozco-Lomeli, 45, of Toronto
are each charged with importation of cocaine and possession of cocaine
for the purpose of trafficking. Karim-Altamirano, the only of the
three still in custody, was also charged with drive while

Both Karim-Altamirano and Orozco-Lomeli are Canadian citizens, Barnum
said. Medina-Gatica is a native of Costa Rica.

Karim-Altamirano will be in court for a bail hearing

Barnum refused to comment on if any of the the accused are co-
operating with the continued police investigation, but said they were
major players in the smuggling.

"These are well-placed individuals who had access to all of this
cocaine," Barnum said. "These aren't individuals that are sort of
playing in this game. They are high-level players in importation and
selling tons of cocaine."

A variety of agencies contributed to the investigation, the OPP
stated, including its own Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau and
Provincial Operations Intelligence Bureau, as well as the CBSA, Peel
Regional Police, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis
Centre of Canada and the United States Drug Enforcement
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