CROSS BORDER SMUGGLING RING TAKEN DOWN IN “OPERATION BLADE RUNNER”
Feds Seize Cocaine, Marijuana and Two Helicopters
A coordinated investigation in the U.S. and Canada has resulted in nine arrests, and in the U.S., the seizure of 600 pounds of B.C. Bud marijuana, and more than 80 kilos of cocaine. The investigation, dubbed “Operation Blade Runner” because of the use of helicopters to smuggle loads across the border, grew out of a 2007 investigation of an ecstasy smuggling ring working in Western Washington. The four U.S. arrests in the current case involved law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Washington, Idaho and Utah. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested five people in Canada, and additional drugs and guns were seized.
“This case demonstrates the coordinated efforts required to ensure the integrity of our borders,” said United States Attorney Jeffrey C. Sullivan. “The sharing of information between law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Canada is critical to stopping the flow of drugs going both north and south. This drug trade fuels violence in both our countries.”
Operation Blade Runner began with a February 21, 2009 traffic stop by the Utah Highway Patrol in Salt Lake City. ROSS LEGGE, 53, of Alberta, BC and LEONARD FERRIS, 50, of Las Vegas, Nevada, were arrested with 83 kilos of cocaine. One of the men had been identified by law enforcement in connection with an ecstasy smuggling ring prosecuted in the Western District of Washington last year. Law enforcement was able to determine the cocaine had been destined for a location in eastern Washington where it was to be loaded onto a helicopter in exchange for a load of B.C. Bud marijuana. When the Bell 200 Jet Ranger helicopter touched down outside of Ione, Washington, law enforcement was waiting. Officers seized the helicopter and 426 pounds of marijuana. Agents arrested Samuel Lindsey-Brown, 24, from Revelstoke, B.C. Lindsey-Brown committed suicide February 27, 2009, at the Spokane County Jail.
Six days later, the group attempted another exchange of drugs. A Robinson R22 helicopter landed in North Idaho. The pilot, JEREMY SNOW, 29, of Kelowna, B.C. was arrested and the helicopter and 174 pounds of marijuana were seized.
In Canada, the RCMP located the helicopter takeoff site and arrested two men, ages 48 and 20, from Chilliwack, B.C. and seized 150 pounds of marijuana and 40,000 ecstasy pills. Additional search warrants were served in Nelson, Salmon Arm, and Malakwa, B.C. Officers seized six guns and arrested a 37-year-old resident of Malakwa, a 35-year-old resident of Salmon Arm, and a 35-year-old man from Chilliwack.
DEA Special Agent in Charge Arnold R. Moorin stated, “This investigation personifies the cooperation required to have a significant impact on cross border crime and the organizations responsible for those crimes.”
“The persistent issue of cross-border criminal activity by a few, creative criminal elements highlights the security threats to Canada and the United States,” said Leigh Winchell, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Office of Investigations in the Pacific Northwest. “Addressing those threats demands absolute partnership and complete cooperation among law enforcement agencies on both sides of the 49th parallel.”
One of the helicopters will be forfeited to the U.S. The Bell 200 Jet Ranger was returned to the leasing company which had apparently unwittingly leased it to a member of the criminal organization. Individual defendants have been charged in the districts where they were arrested, but the cases will likely be consolidated in the Western District of Washington where information about the smuggling ring originated and where, within the past year, two other co-conspirators have been prosecuted for the importation of 200,000 MDMA pills and the possession of 72 kilograms of cocaine.
This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved. Agencies involved in this operation include the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Forest Service, Washington State Patrol, Utah Highway Patrol, Spokane County Sheriff’s Department and the Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s Department.
The case is being prosecuted in Seattle by Assistant United States Attorney Susan M. Roe, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Eastern District of Washington, and the Districts of Utah and Idaho.
For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@USDOJ.Gov.