MONTREAL - One thousand police officers conducted raids in different Canadian cities against an alleged consortium of organized crime that had tentacles stretching from Mexico to Montreal.
Police said 103 people were arrested Thursday in different parts of Canada including two of the alleged ring leaders: one tied to the Hells Angels in British Columbia and another linked to Montreal's infamous Irish West End Gang.
They said the organization hatched its plan in British Columbia and moved East, eventually processing millions of dollars worth of drugs each week.
Police said the organization, which had been under investigation for about six months, managed to rake in an estimated $50 million in that short time.
Police said those arrested included Larry Amero, 35, a full-patch member of the Hells Angels from B.C. who'd been living in Montreal in recent months. Also arrested was Shane Maloney, 35, a man linked to the Irish Mob. He also had ties to B.C. before moving east to Montreal.
Four others who held leadership roles in the group — including another man with ties to B.C., Rabih Alkalil — were still being sought by police late Thursday.
Quebec provincial police Insp. Michel Forget said the investigation into the well-organized group began last spring, aided by 30 different forces across the country including the RCMP.
"(It was) an important drug cartel formed by six individuals (in Quebec) who had the capacity to import and distribute large quantities in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada," Forget told reporters at provincial police headquarters.
Forget said the investigation revealed the drugs were being imported into Canada from the United States using trucks. A trucking firm was under investigation and police were working Thursday to freeze its assets, he added.
The group allegedly used a middleman to co-operate with Mexican drug cartels and appeared to have the capacity to import and distribute about 75 kilograms of cocaine per week. Police also seized an arsenal of weapons, including 400 firearms as well as explosives like 1,486 sticks of dynamite.
"The group did not hesitate to use violence to take control and expand their territories," Forget said.
Police described the ring as a well-organized "consortium" that had help from a variety of groups including the Hells Angels as well as the Italian and Irish Mafia.
"One of the key pieces we're seeing here is the different organized crime families," Forget said.
"They've all converged ... to put their efforts and networks together in order to ensure a distribution network of that nature."
Quebec provincial police said the operation, dubbed Operation Loquace was, in terms of size and manpower, almost as big as two huge strikes against criminal biker gangs in the province in 2001 and 2009.
Police say the organization managed to implant itself quickly in Eastern Canada because of a void that had developed there. They said that opening occurred after police operations against biker gangs, street gangs and the Italian Mafia in the last decade.
But the group clearly had some local help.
"They had to have certain support from these (deposed) individuals," said Forget said.
Amero was identified by police in Quebec as being a member of the Hells Angels Westpoint chapter and as a former member of the White Rock chapter.
Amero was shot last year in Kelowna, B.C., in a gun attack that claimed the life of a notorious local gangster. Red Scorpions leader Jonathan Bacon was killed in the August 2011 shooting outside an upscale waterfront casino.
"He was involved in some incidents in B.C., but I won't comment on that," Forget said of Amero.
Maloney, meanwhile, faces charges stemming from an incident where an off-duty Montreal police officer was badly beaten in Playa del Carmen, a popular resort town in Mexico.
Warrants were issued for 128 people. As of late Thursday, two dozen suspects remained missing.
The accused face a variety of charges including drug trafficking, conspiracy and gangsterism.
Police said they seized $255,000 in cash as well as various quantities of cannabis, cocaine and other drugs. They also seized 13 vehicles and five homes worth about $1.5 million.
Authorities said the searches and arrests were conducted in roughly 30 municipalities in Quebec, Ontario and B.C.
Sgt. Daniel Thibaudeau, a provincial police spokesman, said the size of the operation was comparable to Operation Springtime 2001 and Operation SharQC in 2009, both aimed at crippling criminal biker activity.
"An operation of this scope has not been seen in many years," Thibaudeau said.
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