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Escaped murderer, cocaine bales, fiery drug bust flow from Vancouver Island-based probe

2014 arrests of Vancouver Island residents spur international hunt for organized crime
The 2014 arrests of two Vancouver Island residents led to an almost decade-long international investigation into organized crime. (Courtesy B.C. RCMP Federal Serious and Organized Crime)

An RCMP investigation into organized crime continues to net results almost a decade after the initial bust.

Vancouver Island residents Joseph Thomas and Bradley Wise were arrested by the B.C. RCMP Federal Serious and Organized Crime (FSOC) major projects team in 2014 after 30 kg of cocaine were imported into B.C. on a yacht.

Thomas pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years and six months in prison. Wise is still wanted in Canada for an outstanding warrant for his role in the case but is incarcerated in the U.S.

For two years following the arrests, the Vancouver Island-based FSOC team’s work continued to expand and eventually developed into a large-scale organized crime investigation spanning multiple jurisdictions across Canada, the U.S., the Caribbean and South America. The joint-force, international investigation led to 12 wiretap authorizations and more than 500 other judicial authorizations for gathering evidence “from deep inside the sophisticated and heavily insulated criminal network which included the decryption of previously impenetrable PGP encrypted devices,” according to an RCMP statement.

PGP – Pretty Good Privacy – enables users to encrypt data in a transmitted format that can only be decrypted by the recipient’s key.

Over the next several years, the investigation resulted in the disruption and dismantling of numerous criminal networks across a number of international jurisdictions.

Wise was arrested again, this time with another Canadian, Emerson James Collins Rome, on board a sailboat destined for Vancouver Island that contained 200 kg of methamphetamine and 50 kg of cocaine.

When approached by marine authorities near Washington State, Wise and Rome set the boat on fire before jumping into the ocean. They were convicted and served 30-month sentences for their roles in the fire. For the drug offences, Wise was sentenced in August 2019 to more than 15-and-a-half years and in January 2020, Rome was sentenced to 11-and-a-half years.

Some of the other results from those enforcement actions include the capture, arrest and return of escaped Canadian Norman Gilbert Riel, who had been serving a life sentence for murder. He was arrested in Peru and subsequently returned to Canada.

Canadian Simon Peter Danielson was arrested after being found on board a sailboat in the Caribbean with more than 250 kg of cocaine. Danielson allegedly offloaded several “bales” of cocaine prior to being picked up and wiretap evidence showed the total load was 600 kg of cocaine, believed to be destined for Eastern Canada. Danielson received a 10-year prison sentence in Florida in 2017 and has since been returned to Canada on an international prisoner transfer.

A sailboat with two Canadians on board was also intercepted, this time waiting for a supply vessel near the Galapagos Islands. On board was 860 kg of cocaine believed to be destined for Vancouver Island.

Some of the other seizures included 36 kg of MDMA from a hidden compartment in a semi at the Sumas-Huntington border crossing, one kilogram of fentanyl in Nanaimo, and one kilogram of fentanyl and methamphetamine in Surrey.

The final arrests and searches in this investigation took place in Nanaimo, Surrey, Burnaby and Vancouver in November 2016, resulting in the seizure of 25 kg of drugs, 11 kg of which was fentanyl. More than $2 million in cash, a handgun and an “abduction kit” were also sized.

Within Canada, co-operating agencies included the Victoria-based Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C., Corrections Canada and the Civil Forfeiture Office of B.C. International partners included the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Coast Guard, Peruvian National Police, Peruvian Coast Guard, Panama Express North Strike Force, Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard, French Customs Martinique, Trinidad and Tobago Transnational Organized Crime Unit, and the Joint Inter-Agency Taskforce South.

The involvement of the Civil Forfeiture Office of B.C. has led to the forfeiture of almost $2.2 million. While the majority of the project is now complete, further assets, cash and properties associated with the criminal networks are still in the court process with the Civil Forfeiture Office of B.C., and police could not comment on them.

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About the Author: Greater Victoria News Staff

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