As the trial for notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán continues in a New York courtroom, a former undercover agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) claims the Sinaloa cartel targeted Canada because of its weak national policing and was making almost $3 million a day from selling cocaine and heroin in major Canadian cities.
Former agent Andrew Hogan was part of a task force that spent seven years on the trail of El Chapo before capturing him in 2014. He said the DEA was shocked by the violent cartel leader’s “deep infiltration” in Canada.
“In terms of profit, Chapo was doing more cocaine business in Canada than in the United States,” according to Hogan’s book Hunting El Chapo, which he authored along with Canadian writer Douglas Century.
“It was a straightforward price-point issue: retail cocaine on the streets of Los Angeles or Chicago sold for $25,000 per kilo, while in major Canadian cities it sold for upwards of $35,000 per kilo.”
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Hogan claimed cartel lieutenants were able to exploit gaps in Canadian policing, which, unlike the U.S., does not have specialized agencies like the DEA or FBI.
“The top-heavy structure of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police hampered law enforcement efforts for even the most routine drug arrest and prosecution,” Hogan writes. “It was a perfect match for Chapo: hindered law enforcement and an insatiable Canadian appetite for high-grade coke.”
Pat Fogarty, a former superintendent with the RCMP’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit in B.C., said many assertions in the book regarding Canada appear to be accurate and there was no question the system south of the border was “far more streamlined” to prosecute drug trafficking and money laundering cases more effectively.
“We would be working on the same case in terms of timelines, and those guys are done sentencing before we even get to a prosecution here,” said Fogarty.
The former Mountie said the RCMP’s broad mandate to tackle crime at international, federal and provincial levels means officers are often jumping between units and don’t get the time to hone skills necessary to tackle complex crimes.
“It’s kind of a catch-all federal department,” he said. “You never really get good at a lot of special investigations.”
The book describes how the Sinaloa cartel was able to build a formidable distribution structure that smuggled loads of cocaine across the Arizona border to warehouses in Tucson and Phoenix. The drugs were then driven by car to the Washington border, where the shipments would be transferred to a private helicopter and dropped among the vast forests of B.C.
“Chapo’s men had connections with sophisticated Iranian organized crime gangs in Canada who were facilitating plane purchases, attempting to smuggle ton-quantity loads using GPS-guided parachutes,” Hogan writes.
Biker groups — primarily the Hells Angels — were responsible for moving the cocaine across the country, according to the book.
However, Fogarty said there was never one single technique when it came to smuggling drugs and that police have seen all methods of transportation ranging from underground tunnels to airplanes, helicopters, speed boats and even people carrying drugs across the border into B.C.
Chapo’s point man in Canada was a 22-year-old lieutenant named Jesus Herrera Esperanza, a.k.a. “Hondo,” who ran the cartel drug distribution from a 30th-floor condo loft in Vancouver, according to the book.
Hogan said that Esperanza sent nightly reports to El Chapo, with an update on the cartel’s business in Canada totalling almost $3 million, which would then be laundered back to Mexico.
“Vancouver: $560,000 and 95 kilos of coke. Winnipeg: $275,000 and 48 kilos. Toronto: $2 million and 150 kilos,” Hogan writes.
In Fogarty’s experience, he began to see a number of Canadians working with B.C. gangs like the United Nations and Red Scorpions travel to Mexico to work with cartels.
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“We started to see a number of Canadians that would present themselves in Mexico as sort of ambassadors to assist in the facilitation of the movement of dope up here,” he said. “Canadians were starting to take over their own distribution lines to bring it across the United States.”
A spokesperson for the RCMP said they would not comment on statements “provided by individuals or agencies.”
“Combating organized crime is a priority of the RCMP with the objective of preserving the safety of Canadian communities and the integrity of the economy,” the spokesperson said in an email.
Canada’s inability to prosecute complex crimes was highlighted by the collapse of a high-profile money laundering case in B.C. in which alleged underground bankers were estimated to be laundering over $1 billion a year for criminals, including an international cocaine trafficker with ties to Mexico.
Federal prosecutors stayed criminal charges against Caixuan Qin and Jian Ju Zhu and their business, Silver International Investments Ltd., in November following the RCMP’s E-Pirate investigation that began in 2015.
“I still remain concerned that British Columbia and Canada simply do not have the resources or capacity to investigate and convict — prosecute and convict — those involved in transnational organized crime and money laundering, which apparently the RCMP believes has infiltrated our real estate market in a serious way,” B.C. Attorney General David Eby said during a speech in December.
According to new information in a case study of the E-Pirate investigation by the Financial Action Task Force — an international body that sets anti-money laundering standards — the alleged “professional” laundering network used B.C. as a hub to perform crucial drug trafficking and global money transfer services for organized crime groups, including Mexican cartels.
Fogarty said Canada needs its own specialized agencies, such as a financial crimes unit, to combat complex crimes like money laundering and drug trafficking.
“If we recognize some of our priorities and we drew people in specifically for those priorities, with a skill set that may be acquired, we may be more successful,” he said. “The RCMP is supposed to be a catch-all for everything, and I don’t think it works.”
The book also describes how Hogan and an agent with Homeland Security Investigations spent hundreds of hours combing through intercepts on Blackberry devices used by El Chapo and cartel members. After forming a relationship with Blackberry, Hogan said the interception of messages and the pinging of the devices led to the location and capture of the Sinaloa leader.
El Chapo was arrested in February 2014 but later escaped from a maximum-security prison after leaving through a tunnel in his cell’s shower to a construction site 1.5 kilometres away. He was re-captured in January 2016 and eventually extradited to the U.S., where his drug conspiracy trial is currently underway in a federal courtroom in Brooklyn.
The drug kingpin has pleaded not guilty to a sweeping 17-count indictment that includes operation of a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiring to commit murder, firearms violations and laundering more than $14 billion in narcotics sales.
The trial has heard grisly testimony from former Sinaloa cartel members, who have revealed the violent inner workings of the organization and alleged corruption of government officials in Mexico.
On Tuesday, the jury heard details of an undercover 2010 FBI investigation that exposed how one of El Chapo’s IT specialists created an encrypted communication network for the cartel and its Colombian associates that was originally based in Canada, allowing members to talk to each other about executions, drug trafficking and paying off officials.
Currently, Mexican cartels have moved into smuggling the deadly opioid fentanyl into the U.S., with massive quantities of the drug being seized in New York and New Jersey. A Global News investigation into fentanyl trafficking revealed that cartels are now believed to be a supplier in Canada’s fentanyl crisis, shipping the deadly drug along existing cocaine routes.