Operation to Take Down Montana-Canadian Drug Smuggling Organization Wins National Award
HELENA – The United States Attorney’s Office announces today that members of the White Rhino drug operation team are the recipients of a prestigious national award from the U.S. Department of Justice Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Program. The award, known as the National OCDETF Outstanding Investigation Award, is for Operation White Rhino, which involved the investigation of a large scale cocaine and ecstasy smuggling organization that trafficked drugs across the United States-Canadian border. The investigation resulted in the seizure of 441 kilograms of cocaine, 29 kilograms of ecstasy, approximately $380,000, 12 vehicles, and the arrest of 17 individuals both in the United States and Canada.
“Operation White Rhino is an outstanding example of achieving the goals of OCDETF’s mission,” said OCDETF Director Bruce Ohr, “The bringing together of so many federal, state, local and international law enforcement partners with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in a concerted effort to take down a major cross border drug trafficking business produced the kind of impact that no agency working alone could hope to achieve. In making this award, OCDETF recognizes the enormous amount of work performed and true cooperative spirit shown by the honorees. Their efforts have made the citizens of the U.S. and Canada safer from the ravages of drug trafficking and transnational organized crime.”
“The law enforcement professionals investigating and prosecuting this multi-agency international drug smuggling case overcame numerous operational challenges by maintaining a spirit of cooperation,” said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah R. Saldaña. “Their flexibility allowed us to shut down a major drug trafficking organization that would otherwise still be in operation today. This should serve as a warning to other transnational criminal organizations that we will never let red tape stand in the way of justice.”
“We are pleased to announce this award and the diligent work it represents,” said Mike Cotter, U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana. “This was truly a significant effort that took down a prolific and transnational drug trafficking organization. This was a particularly dynamic investigation that can serve as a model for how to investigate and prosecute transnational crime. This project was an example of open communication, cooperation and collaboration demonstrating the ability to work together to resolve complex, sensitive cross-border law enforcement issues.”
The investigation involved more than 100 law enforcement officers working in Canada and America, specifically Los Angeles, California, Great Falls, Montana, Las Vegas, Nevada, Vancouver, British Columbia, and the Interior of British Columbia and South Western Saskatchewan. Twenty-five of the law enforcement officers who were at the core of the operation were honored with the award. Joseph Thaggard, Criminal Chief and Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Montana U.S. Attorney’s Office received the award, as well as law enforcement from Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Public Prosecution Services of Canada, and the Canada Border Services Agency.
Six members of the drug smuggling organization, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, were indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in the United States for their role in a conspiracy to smuggle over 1,000 kilograms of cocaine from the U.S. into Canada. The drug smuggling operation was believed to have been responsible for smuggling the drugs using remote border crossing locations between designated ports of entry in Montana. Investigators and prosecutors in the U.S. and Canada faced numerous challenges in this operation, including the vastness and remoteness of the borders, coordinating numerous agencies within multiple jurisdictions, encryption methods used by subjects, and handling cross border undercover operations, witnesses and evidence.