NEWS

4 Quebec firefighters arrested in contraband smoke raids

03/21/2012 07:44 EDT | Updated 05/21/2012 05:12 EDT

Four members of the Godmanchester volunteer fire department, including the chief, were among 20 people arrested in a series of early morning raids in Quebec cracking down on illegal cigarette operations.

Provincial police served 22 warrants, mostly around Huntingdon, southwest of Montreal. The fire hall in the small town of Godmanchester was among targeted locations.

Godmanchester Mayor Pierre Poirier told CBC News he was shocked when he got a phone call early Wednesday morning from provincial police telling him that they were raiding the fire hall.

"I feel bad because it's not a good picture for the town hall, eh?" Poirier said.

The suspects are very good firefighters, he added. "When there was a fire, they were right there, and they worked very hard."

Poirier said the fire chief is among those in custody. Four firefighters were arrested at their homes.

Authorities allege they used department equipment, like phones and encrypted radios at the fire hall, to co-ordinate their transactions in a lucrative sideline.

They said the men trafficked their goods back and forth across the nearby U.S. border.

Police said they seized 90 cases of contraband cigarettes, 110 kilograms of cannabis, $140,000 in cash, 35 guns, two bullet-proof vests, six properties, four vehicles and 20 toboggans.

The suspects allegedly used various means of transportation to smuggle cheap cigarettes into Canada, and marijuana into the U.S. In winter, they allegedly used snowmobiles and sleighs.

Whenever possible, police said, the suspects also used boats. Their key transit point was allegedly the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve.

Poirier said police seized computers during their search at the fire hall.

More than 200 officers from the provincial police, RCMP, as well as municipal officers from Laval, St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and the Huntingdon area were involved in the operation.

The mayor convened an emergency town meeting for Wednesday night to discuss with Godmanchester residents plans for the fire department.

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