Canadian, US authorities shutter $30 million cross-border smuggling ring

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MONTREAL — Twenty-five individuals allegedly involved in a $30 million cross-border tobacco smuggling operation were arrested Wednesday following an investigation by Canadian authorities and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Carlo Colapelle, an influential member of the Italian mafia in Montreal and alleged leader of the operation, was among those arrested. All of the arrests occurred in greater Montreal.

According to the investigation, the mafia would allegedly purchase contraband tobacco in the United States and subsequently smuggle it into Canada through the St-Bernard-de-Lacolle border crossing or the Akwesasne Mohawk territory. The tobacco was then sold to three illicit factories located in Kahnawake. The Aboriginal organized crime allegedly assisted the mafia to import and sell the contraband.

"Today's arrests effectively shut down a sophisticated transnational smuggling operation allegedly responsible for illegally exporting large quantities of tobacco, illicit cash, weapons and other contraband into Canada," said James Spero, special agent in charge HSI Buffalo. "By taking down criminal groups engaged in smuggling operations, we ensure the safety and security of both U.S and Canadian citizens. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners on both sides of our shared border to dismantle organizations behind this illegal activity."

"This operation demonstrates the commitment to fight against the sources of supply of loose tobacco in order to maintain the integrity of Québec's tax system and recover the revenue that belongs to the government," said Inspector Michel Pelletier, head of the Sûreté du Québec's unit which fights crimes committed against the state.

The following was seized during the investigation:

  • More than 40,000 kg of tobacco worth $7 million on the black market, representing an estimated tax loss of $10 million for the Canadian government
  • Nearly $450,000 in cash made from illegal transactions
  • More than 1,300 cannabis plants
  • One 9 mm pistol

ACCESS Tabac program and HSI conducted the investigation with assistance from the following agencies: Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Montréal, Akwesasne, Longueuil, Laval, Richelieu-Saint-Laurent, Châteauguay, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Roussillon police services.

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