Posts Tagged ‘Quebec’

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More From the Frontier: Largest Northern New York Drug Bust Ever

Things have changed along the Northern New York border over the past decade. People have always smuggled things across — alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, immigrants, guns, depending on cycles in the underground economy — but marijuana, once mostly a southern border import, now streams into the U.S. from Quebec.

And there are more federal law-enforcement officers on this side of the line than ever, trying to stop it and other contraband.

A phalanx of officials from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Customs and Border Protection Office of Air & Marine, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), other Homeland Security personnel and the U.S. Attorney’s Office joined with local and state law enforcement Tuesday at the DEA’s newly built two-story Plattsburgh headquarters to announce they had broken a billion-dollar marijuana smuggling ring, wrapping up the largest drug case in the North Country ever, the DEA says.

Police are charging 13 men, from Montreal to Boston to Florida, with felony drug offenses for allegedly conspiring to import and distribute tons of weed across the eastern United States over the past few years.

“Eleven years ago when I first became involved in criminal prosecutions on the northern border, DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were two essentially unknown federal agencies in Franklin County,” said Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne. “Today they’re partners in dismantling a 300-pound-a-day marijuana operation, an operation which led to movement in excess of $250 million a year in marijuana over the past four years.

“What I’ve seen is we went from one DEA agent, who I was really happy when he would come over and work a case with us, to this building we’re in today,” Champagne continued. “And I think back then, yes, was there smuggling? Absolutely. But what’s occurred is we’ve gone from an intelligence-gathering stage to fully executing something like this, something that takes out an entire network. It’s really a growth that I could only have dreamed of ten years ago for the North Country.”

DEA and local law enforcement joined Champagne in Franklin County last week to announce arrests in a different, $25-million marijuana importation ring.

“Although all the locals knew what was going on for years and years, and I remember as a kid everyone talking about the smuggling in Malone and the area, now there are the resources to assist,” Champagne said.

Police say the marijuana came across the border in two places. The first has been implicated in smuggling since boundaries were established: Akwesasne, the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation that overlaps the U.S./Canada border on the St. Lawrence River, including several islands. Police say 35-year-old Richard Todd Adams, aka “Frank,” coordinated shipments across the river to his compound in Snye, Quebec, which is on the reservation and contiguous to New York tribal land. Adams is indicted but remains at large. Asked by a reporter how police plan to deal with perennial smuggling via Akwesasne and related sovereignty and jurisdictional issues, Assistant U.S. Attorney Grant Jaquith was vague, stating, “We are very vigilant when it comes to the exploitation of that area.” Investigators don’t give many details of their surveillance methods, but the Customs aviation unit provided high-aerial photographs of the Snye compound, and officers on the ground kept tabs on couriers, who traveled with “blockers,” drivers of other vehicles who intentionally broke traffic laws to distract police.

The second point of entry was described as a “secluded wooded area” just north of Churubusco, near the Clinton/Franklin County line in the vicinity of Frontier and Lost Nation Roads. Police would not comment on who owns the land or how drugs were moved across the border. Twenty-eight-year-old Anthony Plata of Montreal was in charge of smuggling through that point, they allege.

Police did not offer many details about how the bust actually went down, and whether any of the marijuana was distributed in this region. But they said they arrested the alleged ringleader, 23-year-old Steven Sarti of Montreal, in Vermont on June 17. They executed warrants in the arrest of eight other people today. In addition to Adams, two other indicted suspects have not yet been arrested.

Officials Tuesday seemed to prefer to focus on sending a message.

“It’s easy to forget in these idyllic surroundings and friendly communities and with our close relationship with our Canadian neighbors that there are people who wish harm or who are so interested in lining their own pockets that they don’t care what harm they cause others — and exploit this area to move large quantities of narcotics throughout the United States,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaquith said. “We hope this collaboration will stand beyond this tremendous success in bringing the curtain down not only on this drug trafficking enterprise but also on all who follow in their footsteps.”

The DEA said that money confiscated in previous drug cases helped build their new Plattsburgh office building, and money from this and future cases will go to strengthen local agencies that work hardest to break them. Police charged ten men with money-laundering conspiracy and seized $7 million in cash and drugs in this sweep. Prosecutors are also seeking “a money judgement in the amount of $25 million,” according to a press release.

Map of an alleged marijuana importation base at Snye, Quebec, on the Akwesasne Reservation, provided by federal law enforcement officials. You can see more images here.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Adirondacks: Gateway for Quebec Hydroponic Marijuana

Quebec, with its cheap hydropower and proximity to a porous section of the U.S. border, produces massive amounts of warehouse-grown high-THC marijuana.

A billion dollars worth of this weed funnels through Clinton, Franklin, and St. Lawrence counties annually, according to Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne. A look at the map is all it takes to see that much of it travels through the Adirondack Park on its way to Albany, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and as far south as Florida.

Adirondackers are mostly oblivious to this traffic, with its high stakes and organized crime, including the Russian mob, Irish mob and Hell’s Angels. But the lure of big money has attracted some North Country residents to sideline in the business, including a store owner/construction contractor from St. Regis Falls, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

Every other week for at least the past two years, a hundred or so pounds of marijuana valued at around $500,000 per shipment would leave northern New York and be transported by car to Cleveland, Ohio, authorities say. At first, police in the Cleveland area identified Daniel Simonds, a 31-year-old resident of Stockholm, in St. Lawrence County, as the deliveryman. But then Simonds was shot and killed in his home a year ago.

Investigators continued to watch Cleveland drug-ring suspects believed to have connections with the Russian mob. They got in touch with North Country law enforcement, confirming that shipments were still coming from this region, specifically from Franklin County. Police would not give details on their surveillance methods, but they say that suppliers from Cleveland would rent a car every other weekend and drive to their pick-up spot, a rustic camp on the St. Regis River in St. Regis Falls belonging to Harold Fraser, a 43-year-old St. Regis Falls resident who also owns the Hill Top Stop market and construction business in that Adirondack hamlet and whose arrest on drug possession charges was announced Wednesday.

The Cleveland drivers would wait at Fraser’s camp for a shipment of Quebec marijuana, which would cross the Canadian border via several entry points, but usually through the Akwesasne Reservation, according to David Leu, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s resident agent in charge for Northern New York. Jurisdictional ambiguities inside Mohawk nation land, which straddles the U.S.-Canada border on the St. Lawrence River, have fostered a smuggling economy. After a few hours at the St. Regis Falls camp, the drivers would receive the hydroponic, hand over the cash (hidden inside a computer hard-drive shell in at least one instance) and be on their way back to Cleveland, sometimes supplying other areas in New York State and the Northeast, Champagne says.

“In this case, in a one-year period, in excess of 18 loads were confirmed between Franklin County and Ohio with the average load having a street value in excess of $500,000. The organization has been operating in excess of 2-3 years allowing for an approximate street value of 18 to 27 million dollars during the known period of operation,” a press release states.

Eight operators described as “mid-level” have been arrested, five in Northern New York and three in Ohio so far. Leu says, “There are definitely going to be other arrests.” St. Lawrence County District Attorney Nicole Duve says the drug network is linked to the killing of Daniel Simonds but she would not elaborate because an investigation is ongoing. She says seven defendants are under indictment in the homicide case, two of them in Canada, and one remains at large.

The arrests resulted from search warrants executed June 15 in Cleveland and at three North Country residences and at the Hill Top Stop. Police would not comment on the convenience store’s role in the case. The warrants netted $1.3 million in cash as well as a pound of cocaine and another $700,000 in assets, including 14 vehicles, two utility trailers, three ATVs, a snowmobile and a boat. Leu says any day police take $1.3 million in cash out of the illegal-drug loop is a good day, and he expects the money to support further North Country drug interdiction efforts.

Champagne says marijuana-importing networks on this scale are not unusual in the North Country anymore. “Unfortunately we know a dozen groups that move that kind of volume,” he says.

Photo: The St. Regis Falls camp where marijuana transfers allegedly took place – the photo was supplied by law enforcement officials. To see more of their photos click here.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bridge Collapse Recalls Historic Adirondack Disaster

The recent collapse of the bridge spanning the Mississippi River at Minneapolis brought to mind the tragic history of similar events in the Adirondacks.

Workers building the historic Stone Arch Bridge (photo above from the late 1800s) over the Ausable River in Keeseville had a close call in 1842. The bridge of native stone, believed at the time to be the largest such bridge in the country, was being built to replace the original wooden structure erected in 1805. The men had completed the first course of stone including the keystones and had nearly finished the second course when a violent storm blew in. Just as more then 30 men fled the storm’s heavy rain to a wooden shed on the bank of the river the entire bridge collapsed into the Ausable with a thunderous crash. The tremendous crash was said to have shaken buildings as far away as Port Kent.

Delays in the construction of the bridge caused by the collapse inadvertently caused a more tragic accident that same year. On local militia “muster day,” September 13, 1842, the unfinished bridge caused the Essex County militia to cross a smaller swinging bridge (supported by chains) nearby. The bridge was filled with bystanders as they marched across in lock step. It’s believed the overloaded bridge combined with the stamping feet of the marchers caused the bridge to collapse into the churning river below. Local newspapers reported that nine people were drowned, and four later died of exposure. Two boys, Richard Pope and Richard Peabody, were swept over a nearby dam with their arms around each other and were among those drowned.

A similar accident twice befell the men building what was then longest bridge in the world (3,239 feet) over the St. Lawrence River at Quebec. As one of the enormous spans was being raised from pontoons, it gave way and crashed into the river taking with it fifty men. Observers said the central span, weighing more than 5,000 tons, buckled at the center before it fell. At least five were killed. The accident occurred in 1916, but just nine years before a similar accident on the same bridge killed 70.In the spring of 1931 the Whallonsburg bridge, which carried much of the Albany-Montreal traffic over the Bouquet River in Essex County, collapsed while Robert O’Neil of Willsboro was crossing. O’Neil’s car fell nearly twelve feet but he escaped uninjured. The bridge’s steel trusses slipped from one of its abutments. The next day four boys were sitting on the railing of the wrecked bridge when it gave way and they went into the water. Kenneth McDougall was knocked unconscious from a serious head injury but the others escaped relatively unharmed. The photo at right shows the new abutments, made of rough quartzite from Champlain Stone.The 1842 Chain Bridge Collapse ranks among the deadliest accidents ever in the Adirondack region. Read more about the others here.