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Quebec inmate who allegedly ran fentanyl ring from his prison cell faces extradition to the U.S.

A Chinese court has jailed nine people on charges of smuggling the highly-addictive opioid fentanyl to the United States, in the first such case that Washington and Beijing have worked on together.

A Quebec inmate is facing extradition to the United States over allegations by American law enforcement that he orchestrated an international fentanyl-trafficking ring from inside his prison cell involving drugs imported from China and distributed throughout North America.

Jason Joey Berry, 36, is currently serving a 12-year sentence in a federal prison for importing and producing mass quantities of fentanyl pills in Canada, for which he was arrested in 2013. In a 2017 indictment, U.S. authorities charged Berry and a former fellow inmate, Colombian national Daniel Vivas Ceron, with running a fentanyl-trafficking operation from inside the medium-security Drummond Institution using a prohibited mobile phone and multiple aliases. 

China and the U.S. team up to jail 9 fentanyl traffickers
China and the U.S. team up to jail 9 fentanyl traffickers

Canadian Department of Justice spokesperson Ian McLeod told Global News in an email that the United States made a request last month for the provisional arrest of Berry to face drug-trafficking charges. 

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McLeod said the arrest warrant was carried out on Oct. 17 and Berry appeared in court the following day. A court document indicates Berry’s next court appearance will be this Friday, Nov. 15, at the Superior Court of Quebec in Montreal.

The request for provisional arrest prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice, and filed at the Montreal court, states that Berry and Ceron recruited former inmates and others outside of Drummond to receive and further distribute fentanyl and fentanyl analogues in various forms, including powder and pills.

According to the American indictments, undercover law enforcement officials posed as buyers in 2014 and eventually traced a Canada Post package of fentanyl analogue pills back to the Quebec prison. U.S. authorities accused Berry, Vivas Ceron and several other people from the U.S., Canada and China of being involved in the scheme.

This was part of a mass investigation, dubbed Operation Denial, that was sparked by the overdose death of Bailey Henke, an 18-year-old in Grand Forks, N.D.

American law enforcement officials say his deaths, and many overdoses, have been linked to the drugs sold through the prison operation. 

READ MORE: Inmate faces charges for the death of Milton prisoner, police say

Under Canada’s Extradition Act, a person may be extradited from Canada to another country only if the alleged criminal offence is recognized as such by both countries. A foreign country, such as the United States, may seek the extradition of someone in two ways, either through a formal extradition request or by requesting the person’s “provisional arrest,” which must then be followed by a formal extradition request.

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“Under the terms of our extradition treaty with the United States, the U.S. has until December 17th to submit its full extradition request (or 60 days after the provisional arrest),” McLeod said. 

Rising opioid overdose deaths in Calgary coincide with end of supervised consumption site review: report
Rising opioid overdose deaths in Calgary coincide with end of supervised consumption site review: report

Department of Justice data shows that the vast majority of people arrested for extradition in Canada are ultimately ordered surrendered to the country seeking extradition.

The U.S. Department of Justice documents state that Berry is currently located at the Donnacona Institution, a maximum security prison in Quebec.

Berry’s former fellow inmate, Vivas Ceron, had been incarcerated in Canada since 2002 on a 19-year sentence for a range of crimes, including cocaine offences and attempted murder. In 2015, after serving two-thirds of the sentence, Vivas Ceron was granted statutory release and was to be deported back to Colombia.

While on a layover in Panama City, he was re-arrested by law enforcement and eventually extradited to North Dakota to face the prison drug-trafficking charges, where he was again imprisoned.

READ MORE: Man accused of helping to run fentanyl ring from Quebec prison signs plea

This July, Vivas Ceron pleaded guilty to his involvement in the Quebec prison operation, specifically to charges including conspiracy to import controlled substances resulting in death and injury. 

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U.S. authorities allege in the provisional arrest request that the fentanyl distributed by Berry and Ceron “caused death and serious bodily injury to an unknown number of individuals in the United States, Canada and elsewhere.”
 
The document alleges this includes the overdose deaths of a resident of Portland, Oregon and Bailey Henke. It also alleges that the drugs distributed by the inmates were linked to at least three overdoses and one overdose death at a jail in Portland. 

The U.S. criminal indictment against Berry also accuses four other Quebecers of being involved in the fentanyl-trafficking operation. Extradition requests are not typically made public until they reach the courts.

When asked whether the four other Canadians listed on the indictment are also facing extradition, McLeod said: “We have no information to share on the other individuals.”

Chinese law enforcement has been working with both the U.S. and Canada to curb the flow of illicit fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, which have been linked to the overdose deaths of tens of thousands of people across North America in recent years.

Earlier this week, China jailed nine people for smuggling fentanyl into the U.S. as part of a joint operation between American and Chinese authorities. U.S. President Donald Trump had previously accused China of not doing enough to clamp down on opioid trafficking.

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