TORONTO – “Despite restrictions at our borders and despite an ongoing global pandemic, organized crime continues to show blatant disregard for the law. Project SOUTHAM has displayed the number of varying commodities and illegal activities that these organized crime groups are involved in – from cocaine to cannabis, and other offences including phishing and mortgage fraud. The tentacles of organized crime expand across our province, our country and into other countries. We will continue to aggressively pursue anyone who threatens the safety of our communities and we will continue to effectively work with our partner agencies to do so” states OPP Deputy Commissioner Chuck Cox, Provincial Commander, Investigations and Organized Crime
A 15-month investigation into Greater Toronto Area (GTA)-based organized crime groups has concluded with 22 individuals facing serious charges. The GTA-based organized crime groups have been importing high volumes of cocaine into Canada for the purpose of trafficking, as well as participating in other criminal activities.
The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau (OCEB) and Provincial Operations Intelligence Bureau (POIB), along with York Regional Police (YRP) and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) began Project SOUTHAM in March of 2020 after investigators became aware of the importation of cocaine. Police were able to identify two main groups, each consisting of individuals working together to facilitate the sale of cocaine for financial benefit and both capable of orchestrating international importation of cocaine:
- An organized crime group responsible for importing and trafficking cocaine from Colombia, concealed in textiles. They would then establish a clandestine laboratory to process the cocaine into a sellable state.
- An organized crime group responsible for conspiring to import cocaine from the Caribbean. This organized crime group also conspired to export illicit cannabis from Canada to the United States.
With the assistance of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the investigative team have seized a total of 86 kilograms of cocaine attempting to be imported on aircrafts from the Caribbean.
On July 7, 2021, police executed 44 search warrants at 25 locations in Toronto, Innisfil, Mississauga, Oakville, Vaughan, Thornhill, Brampton and Ancaster, as well as businesses in Etobicoke, Vaughan, Hamilton, and Mississauga. Members from OCEB, OPP Tactics & Rescue Unit (TRU), YRP Emergency Response Unit (ERU), the Repeat Offender Parole Enforcement (ROPE) Squad, OPP K-9, OPP Cybercrime Investigations Team (CIT) and Provincial Asset Forfeiture Unit (PAFU) as well as tactical units from Halton Regional Police Service, Toronto Police Service and South Simcoe Police Service assisted with the execution of warrants.
As a result of this investigation, police seized:
- 92 kilograms of cocaine;
- 1 kilogram of methamphetamine;
- 249 kilograms of illicit cannabis, 100’s of bags of illicit cannabis edibles & 56 grams hash;
- 1.3 kilograms of psilocybin;
- 21 litres of gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB);
- 255 grams of ketamine;
- 255 grams of MDMA;
- 980 oxycodone pills;
- 1 kilogram of a cutting agent;
- A 9mm handgun;
- 1 silver bar, approximate value of $2,600;
- $372,020 in Canadian currency;
- $7,620 in US currency;
- A cryptocurrency hardware wallet containing cryptocurrency; and
- 7 vehicles as offence-related property.
The drugs seized in this investigation have an estimated street-value of nearly $10 million.
A total of 22 people have been charged with 139 offences. A full list can be found on the Addendum of Charged Persons within the Project SOUTHAM media kit. Upon arrest, eight (8) of the accused were held in custody. An arrest warrant has been issued for one individual currently outstanding and in an effort to further the investigation, details surrounding charges and a description/photo for this individual has been included as an attachment to this release. The remaining 13 were released and are scheduled to appear at the Ontario Court of Justice in Newmarket on August 11, 2021.
The clandestine laboratory contained chemicals and apparatus essential to facilitating the extraction process to allow cocaine to be converted into a sellable state.
During the investigation, police identified an individual who participated in both organized crime groups and was also involved in two other drug trafficking networks. The investigative team discovered this individual was operating an illegal steroid business as well as a clandestine laboratory producing GHB.
The OPP Clandestine Laboratory Investigative Response Team (CLIRT) has been engaged since the discovery of the clandestine laboratories to ensure there are no concerns for public safety.
The overarching objective of each group was to generate substantial financial gains from their illicit drug enterprises. One member, in collaboration with a mortgage broker and the owner of a pharmacy, directed their drug trafficking proceeds toward the purchase of a $1.5 million house in the GTA. The individuals are also involved in several other illegal activities and have been charged accordingly, including charges related to fraudulent phishing. The OPP CIT were engaged to investigate the phishing and mortgage fraud crimes, and assisted in successfully seizing cryptocurrency. The PAFU investigation continues with the assistance of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC).