US/Canadian Investigations Dismantle International Marijuana
SEP 10 -- (Syracuse, NY) JOHN P. GILBRIDE, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Office of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA"), Andrew T. Baxter, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York, and William Fitzpatrick, Onondaga County District Attorney, announce the arrest and indictment of eight individuals in connection with a major marijuana distribution organization located in the greater Syracuse, New York area. The marijuana trafficking organization was responsible for smuggling millions of dollars across the New York/Canadian border.
These prosecutions resulted from a joint investigation undertaken by United States and Canadian law enforcement.
The U.S. led four month drug investigation, called Project “River Crossing,” identified a drug trafficking operation responsible for disseminating millions of dollars worth of marijuana throughout Syracuse and Onondaga County. On August 17, 2008, investigators executed five (5) search warrants and arrested eight (8) defendants. As a result of the takedown operation the following items were seized: five (5) vehicles; four (4) firearms which included a loaded .380 handgun, a .38 revolver, a loaded Kel Tech .40 caliber semi-automatic rifle with a loaded 15 round clip, and a 12 gauge shotgun; a bullet proof vest; $53,751 in United States currency; and approximately 60 pounds of marijuana.
This joint investigation involved special agents and officers of the DEA Syracuse Resident Office, Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, the Ottawa Police Service, the Onondaga County District Attorney's Office, and the United States Attorney's Office. Throughout the investigation, agents and investigators conducted separate but connected wiretap investigations involving key targets in the United States and Ottawa, Ontario, Canada who were supplying the David LAFONTAINE Drug Trafficking Organization (DTO) with large quantities of high grade, Canadian sourced marijuana on a weekly basis. The David LAFONTAINE DTO was responsible for smuggling and transporting bulk shipments of marijuana from Canada into the U.S. through the Akwasasnee-Mohawk Indian Reservation, and then distributing the Marijuana in the greater Syracuse/Onondaga County area and beyond.
Those indicted include the following:
DAVID LAFONTAINE , aka David Lett, age 29, Bridgeport, NY;
All of these individuals were charged in an Indictment in U.S. District Court with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute marijuana. If convicted, they face a mandatory minimum five or ten year term of imprisonment up to a maximum of life imprisonment, up to a $4 million fine, and at least five years of supervised release following any period of incarceration.
Following the arrests on August 17, 2008 a Joint Police Operation involving the Ottawa Police Service (OPS), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) effected twenty search warrants under the authority of the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act on August 26, 2008. This Canadian investigation was headed under “Operation Scarecrow” which commenced in April 2007, as an investigation into an Ottawa based Asian Organized Crime Group involved in the production, trafficking and distribution of large amounts of marijuana throughout the Ottawa area.
Under “Operation SCARECROW” eighteen of the warrants were executed in the City of Ottawa, one in the town of Alexandria and one in the community of Akwesasne. The search warrants were executed in residences. Members of the OPS Tactical Unit assisted in some of the entries.
Project “SCARECROW” effected a total of 230 charges against named individuals. The 230 charges include conspiracy to produce and traffic controlled substances, possession of controlled substances for the purpose of trafficking, participating in a criminal organization and laundering proceeds of crime. Investigators identified the various “cells” of the organization and their role within the production and distribution of the organization. Numerous large-scale indoor marijuana grow operations were located and dismantled; several bulk transactions of marijuana were intercepted as they were being trafficked through various compartments of the Criminal Organization.
The controlled substances seized over the course of the Canadian investigation are worth over 4.5 million dollars. The Integrated Proceeds of Crime Unit and the Asset Forfeiture Unit, seized assets directly related to the proceeds of the organizations criminal activity valued in excess of $ 460,000.00.
Also assisting in this investigation were agents with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Syracuse Police Department, agents with the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Enforcement (ATF), the United States Marshals Service, and members of the New York State Police.
Further inquiries can be directed to Assistant U. S. Attorney Carla Freedman at (315) 448-0672 or Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bednarski at (315) 435-2470, the prosecutors handling the case.