Point Douglas Coun. Vivian Santos says she was forced to resign from the Winnipeg Police Board last week after she failed a security clearance check.
“I was absolutely surprised … I have nothing to hide,” she told reporters last Tuesday. “I don’t have a criminal record. I’ve never been charged. I’ve never been arrested, so it did come as a surprise to me.”
Santos says she’s in the dark as to why she failed the routine background check — and wants answers.
“I don’t have skeletons in my closet,” she told reporters last Tuesday.
“I’ve been trying to wrack my brain for the past few days to see what would be wrong in the police’s opinion.”
The Winnipeg Police Service would not confirm last week whether Santos has ever been involved in a police investigation, but police sources tell Global News that Santos and her husband were at one point under surveillance as part of a major police drug investigation that led to the largest cocaine seizure in the city’s history.
In March, 42-year-old Jay Santos, who is not related to the councillor, and an associate were arrested by police following a months-long investigation by the guns and gangs unit into an independent, interprovincial drug cell that started last October.
After the arrest, guns and gangs unit head Insp. Max Waddell said the drug cell was suspected of trafficking multi-kilogram shipments of cocaine into Winnipeg. Santos and 36-year-old Balbir Singh Nahal of Abbotsford, B.C., were arrested and charged with unlawful possession for the purpose of trafficking a controlled substance.
In all, police say they seized 19 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of more than $1.5 million as well as 20 pounds of cannabis with a street value of more than $90,000.
Jay Santos is currently out on bail and awaiting trial.
At the time, Coun. Santos confirmed to Global News the man arrested was a close and longtime family friend. She told Global News she was surprised and in disbelief that he had been arrested for drug trafficking.
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Neither she nor her husband, Jeffrey Santos, have been charged in connection to the case, but the alleged drug trafficker, Jay Santos, can be seen in the councillor’s destination wedding photo. Another photo shows him with her husband, Jeffrey, and other friends.
Both were friends with him on social media until at least March.
City bylaws state all councillors and civilians who sit on the board must undergo a basic clearance check conducted by Winnipeg police, where police run a person’s name and birth date through a police database, according to Const. Rob Carver, adding police look for two issues that will cause someone to fail a check.
“Does the name come up or does the name where it’s associated to people, where that has been an investigation or charges at a provincial level federal level or another agency?” says Carver.
The councillor was asked again last week about her connection to the accused drug dealer and asked whether she believed it could be the reason she failed her clearance check.
“That’s all speculation, she said. “ I wish the police would have told me if that was the case and I could clear the air and give explanations. Again, we don’t know if that’s true or not.
“Are you guilty by association?”
Registered vehicles under surveillance
However, police sources tell Global News it was not just photographs and a lifelong friendship with Jay Santos, an alleged drug dealer that made the councillor fail her clearance.
Police sources have told Global News that during the months-long police investigation, officers pulled over a 2015 white Mercedes Benz registered to Jeffrey Santos. According to those sources, neither he nor his wife, Vivian, were in the vehicle, but another man police sources say is alleged to be a major player in the drug-trafficking ring was driving it.
Global News has learned the driver has also previously been charged with drug trafficking in B.C.
Sources say the vehicle was impounded for 30 days after the driver was found to be operating the vehicle with a suspended licence.
Sources say police were also watching a second vehicle registered to both Vivian and Jeffrey that police sources allege was being used by the same man pulled over in the Mercedes as part of the drug-trafficking ring as well.
“While we were acquaintances with this person, my husband and I had no knowledge of his personal issues nor allegations of his improper behaviour,” Coun. Santos wrote in an email to Global News on Monday, referring to their cars being involved in the alleged drug-trafficking ring. “My husband believed by borrowing him these vehicles he was helping a friend. My husband and I have severed ties with this individual and will not be associated with him going into the future.”
Coun. Santos says she’ll be holding a news conference on Tuesday.
In a tweet last week, Santos said she was reconsidering her resignation from the police board, saying “police have acted arbitrarily and denied (her) procedural fairness” and that she was looking at “other legal options, in order to clear (her) name.”