GREAT FALLS, Mont. — The latest drug smuggler who was part of a complex international drug smuggling organization between the United States and Canada was sentenced Monday to five years in federal prison. This sentence and the overall results of the international drug smuggling investigation, were announced by U.S. Attorney Michael W. Cotter, and other agency heads during a July 30 news conference.
Christopher Mark Chambers, 27, a resident of Vernon, British Columbia, Canada, was sentenced to 60 months in federal prison and five years of supervised release by U.S. District Judge Sam E. Haddon.
Chambers was sentenced in connection with his guilty plea to conspiracy to export cocaine.
Early on the morning of April 26, 2011, U.S. Border Patrol agents encountered a pickup truck bearing Canadian license plates south of the Canada/United States border near the town of Malta, Mont. The agents took the driver of the vehicle into custody and learned he was a member of an organized criminal enterprise (hereafter "the organization") that smuggled cocaine from the United States into Canada.
Special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and several other law enforcement agencies in Montana and California, joined the international investigation. Their investigation learned of a large-scale organization responsible for smuggling multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine from the United States into Canada since late 2009. It was determined that large, multi-kilogram shipments of cocaine from sources located on the West coast of the United States, primarily in southern California, had been smuggled into Canada along isolated stretches of the border in northeastern Montana.
Between December 2009 and April 26, 2011, information received determined the organization had smuggled about 12 separate loads of cocaine from southern California to Canada via the border in northeastern Montana.
Between April 26 and Oct. 1, 2011, law enforcement authorities in the United States and Canada seized about 214 kilograms of cocaine which the organization attempted to export from the United States into Canada. Authorities in the United States and Canada also seized about 100,000 tablets of MDMA (ecstasy) which the organization intended to export from Canada into the United States.
Law enforcement on both sides of the United States/Canada border initiated investigations into the conspiracy. "Project White Rhino" – as it is known in the United States, and "Project Faril," as it is called in Canada – was a major, multi-agency drug investigation first launched in April 2011. The investigation involved more than 100 law enforcement officers working across Western North America (Canada and United States) in the cities of Los Angeles, Calif.; Great Falls, Mont.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Vancouver, British Columbia; and the interior of British Columbia and Southwestern Saskatchewan.
The American and Canadian investigation resulted in seizing $380,000 CAD, 441 kilograms of cocaine, 29 kilograms of ecstasy (100,000 pills), and 12 vehicles. Seventeen individuals were also arrested in the United States and Canada. The amount of drugs seized during this investigation is the largest seizure of illegal drugs in Montana and the province of Saskatchewan.
During the course of its investigation in Canada, RCMP officers located drug ledgers during the execution of search warrants in Canada that document the conspirators had smuggled 1,054 kilograms (2,320 lbs.) of cocaine from the U.S. into Canada over 22 trips. The conspirators were also identified as being responsible for the smuggling of about 1.3 million ecstasy pills and 140 pounds of marijuana into the U.S. from Canada for distribution in the U.S. The estimated street value of the drugs seized in Canada and the United States is $17.5 million. It is expected that additional arrests will be made.
Four principal members of this transnational drug trafficking organization are in Canadian jails in the province of Saskatchewan. Each has been charged with violating Canadian drug laws, including but not limited to: importation of cocaine, possession for the purpose of trafficking cocaine, participating in a criminal organization and conspiracy to import cocaine.
The four co-conspirators include: Brock Ernest Palfrey, 25, Silverstar, British Columbia, awaiting trial set for Oct. 22; Troy Ernest Swanson, 25, Coldstream, British Columbia, awaiting trial set for Oct. 22; William Bruce Larsen, 51, Coldstream, British Columbia, who pleaded guilty; and Ronald Charles Learning, 29, from Golden, British Columbia, who negotiated a plea agreement to charges of possession with the purpose of trafficking cocaine and MDMA.
"This extremely complex multi-agency investigation demonstrates law enforcement efficiency at its best on both sides of the border," said Kumar C. Kibble, special agent in charge of HSI Denver. "Our respective agencies pooled our resources, training and expertise to shut down an international drug trafficking organization that peddled illegal drugs to the U.S. and Canada. And together we'll continue to remain vigilant for any other drug smugglers who try to replace them."
"The great state of Montana sprawls over 145,000 square miles with an estimated population of 917,000 people – that is six people per square mile. The vastness of the state of Montana pales in comparison to the vastness of Canada – both Montana and Canada's wide, empty expanses make their borders ripe targets for criminal mischief. The cases brought in Montana and in Canada are truly exemplary examples of cross border cooperation. To date, HSI, DEA and RCMP have seized about 441 kilograms of cocaine ($16.5 million street value) and 29 kilograms of ecstasy ($1 million street value); $380,000 in cash; 12 vehicles and made 17 arrests in Canada and the United States. The excellent work of the RCMP, HSI and the DEA in this case has truly made an impact on both sides of the border. This particular project should serve as a model or template for the future as to how we should cooperate in transnational narcotics investigations and enforcement. My office looks forward to a continued partnership with our friends in the north to stymie the flow of illegal drugs into and from the United States and Canada," said U.S. Attorney Michael W. Cotter.
"Countering criminal threats can never be accomplished by agencies acting alone. The sophistication of organized criminal activity requires a cooperative response from law enforcement, domestically and internationally. The success of this investigation demonstrates the ability of Canadian and U.S. law enforcement agencies to cooperate and resolve issues of jurisdiction and differing legal requirements for a common goal – the health, safety and security of the citizens of both countries," said Inspector Mercer Armstrong, Officer in Charge, Federal Support Services, Criminal Operations, RCMP (Regina).
"This successful investigation demonstrates that drug traffickers are no longer able to use the border separating Montana and Canada to evade law enforcement. International investigations require international cooperation, which is exemplified in this significant narcotics investigation. DEA looks forward to continued mutual cooperation with our law enforcement partners on both sides of the border, which will make our countries more safe and secure," said Drug Enforcement Agency, Special Agent-in-Charge, Barbra M. Roach.
"U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Havre Sector Border Patrol is proud to partner with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and to have been able to contribute to a partnership that enhances border security and integrity along our border. The relationships that we have established with the RCMP, as well as Homeland Security Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Agency, and our ability to share law enforcement information with these trusted partners has proven to be a valuable asset in our mission to secure the border and our respective communities," said Chief Patrol Agent, Havre Sector, U.S. Border Patrol, Brenna Neinast.
Because there is no parole in the federal system, the "truth in sentencing" guidelines mandate that Chambers will likely serve all of the time imposed by the court. In the federal system, Chambers does have the opportunity to earn a sentence reduction for "good behavior." However, this reduction cannot exceed 15 percent of the overall sentence.