BUFFALO, N.Y. — One officer and a former officer with the Niagara Regional Police Service (NRP), and an associate are in custody in Canada Thursday following an investigation into a cheese smuggling scheme. The investigation is being conducted by members of Buffalo's Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST).
The arrests were announced by James Spero, special agent in charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Buffalo, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the NRP, all members of the Buffalo BEST.
Scott Heron, 39, Casey Langelaan, 48, and Bernie Pollino, 44, all of whom reside in Fort Erie, Ontario, have been charged for smuggling goods, evasion of duties and other related charges under Canadian laws. The NRP Thursday morning arrested the three men. Heron is a member of the NRP. He was suspended from duty as the result of this investigation. At the time of the alleged criminal activity, Langelaan was also a member of the NRP. He was suspended at the time of the investigation and is no longer with the force. Pollino is not an officer but is alleged to have participated in the scheme with Heron and Langelaan.
The network involved the purchasing of cases of cheese and other food items in the United States and transporting them into Canada without declaring the items or paying duty. Once the products arrived in the country, they were sorted and prepared for distribution to a variety of restaurants in southern Ontario.
The investigation revealed that there was a significant financial gain to be made in the cheese smuggling operation due to the fact that duty imposed on cheese and dairy products imported from the United States ranged from 250-400 percent. The investigation also revealed over $200,000 worth of cheese and other products were purchased and distributed for an estimated profit of over $165,000.
The subjects will have an initial appearance Sept. 27 in court in Ontario.
In January 2006, DHS adopted the BEST initiative as a DHS task force in order to leverage federal, state, local, tribal and international law enforcement and intelligence resources in an effort to identify, disrupt and dismantle organizations that seek to exploit vulnerabilities along the U.S. borders and threaten the overall safety and security of the American public. BEST is designed to increase information sharing and collaboration among the participating agencies, focusing toward the identification, prioritization and investigation of emerging or existing threats.