International drug sting started with seizure of ecstasy in Princeton
Charges were laid in a substantial international drug sting that began with a seizure of ecstasy in Princeton.
"We took a significant amount of drugs off the streets during this investigation," said Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. spokesperson Sgt. Ghalib Bhayani. "The cocaine alone represents a street value (per gram) of over $17 million."
The investigation spanned B.C., California, Mexico and Peru and was initiated in 2008 following information from the Drug Enforcement Administration that Canadian and American-based citizens were using a sophisticated system of encrypted smartphones to communicate and organize drug transactions on an international scale.
The investigation revealed that a number of the accused travelled extensively throughout North and South America, conspiring to buy cocaine and importing it into Canada.
Bhayani said their first seizure of drugs came on Aug. 21, 2008 when 23 kilograms (117,000 pills) of ecstasy were seized in Princeton.
Princeton RCMP and South Okanagan Traffic Services conducted a routine check on Highway 3 and Copper Mountain Road around 1 p.m. when they stopped a 1981 Buick Regal with expired plates and a temporary operating permit. Four, one kg bags of ecstasy pills were located under the back seat. In addition, two hidden compartments were found in the car's interior. Inside those, police found an additional 29 bags of pills. One adult male and female, from Vancouver, were charged with possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking.
A total of 121 kg was seized at the Pacific Border crossing on Dec. 20, 2008. A few days later on Dec. 24, 2008, a further 97 kg of cocaine hidden inside a commercial transport truck carrying bananas was also seized at the same border crossing. In May of 2009, 10 kg of cocaine was seized in Burnaby.
The investigation progressed for six more months and concluded with seven warrants executed in June 2009 at residences in Lake Country, Chilliwack, Burnaby, Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford. Those searches resulted in the seizure of four firearms, including a restricted pistol, and a number of prohibited firearms, including a revolver and two semi-automatic pistols.
The six men allegedly involved in the international drug ring include Khamla Wong, 42, formerly of Abbotsford and Jeremy Albert Stark, 38, of Langley who are charged with one count each of conspiracy to traffic 121 kg of cocaine, one count each of conspiracy to import 97 kg of cocaine and one count each of a possession of a firearm. Wong currently remains at large.
Also charged are Christopher Lloyd Mehan, 40, of Burnaby for one count of conspiracy to import 97 kg of cocaine; Matthew James Higgins, 28, of Powell River with one count of conspiracy to traffic in ecstasy; Hernan Osvaldo Veloso, 50, of Vancouver with one count of conspiracy to traffic in ecstasy and one count of possession for the purpose of trafficking and Robert Charles Arthur, 32, of Surrey with one count of possession for the purpose of trafficking 10 kg of cocaine. Arthur is currently out on bail. Stark, Mehan, Higgins and Veloso will appear in court on Sept. 12 in Surrey.