dea

PLATTSBURGH — A major drug-trafficking organization from Quebec, Canada, that allegedly funneled large quantities of drugs through the region has been dismantled following an extensive two-year investigation.

More than 5,000 pounds of marijuana, $6 million in U.S. currency and 25 kilograms of cocaine have been seized during Operation Iron Curtain, a multi-faceted operation that resulted in more than 45 arrests.

“The number of impressive law-enforcement leaders at this (press) conference is a reflection of the importance of this case to the security of our northern border,” said Grant Jaquith, criminal chair of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern New York District.

Jaquith, along with more than a dozen representatives from several local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies, spoke Tuesday afternoon during a press conference to announce the unsealing of a federal indictment charging 13 defendants with a variety of drug offenses.

None of the men charged are from the North Country, but law-enforcement officials were quick to praise the efforts of all involved in bringing to an end a significant and well-organized drug-trafficking operation that threatened the safety of border traffic in northern New York.

“These indictments and these law-enforcement successes are a result of the commitment of all the agencies involved,” Jaquith said as he praised the efforts of people working out in the field on a daily basis.

The confiscated marijuana was collected over a 13-month period from January 2008 to February 2009 and ranged from 130 pounds to more than 4,400 pounds.

The indictment also identified several instances between July 2007 and May 2008 when U.S. currency was confiscated as part of the ring’s alleged money laundering conspiracy.

According to James Burns, assistant special agent for DEA Operations in New York, the confiscated drugs and currency were worth around $7 million in total drug profit.

The ring allegedly utilized two routes for their smuggling efforts: across the St. Lawrence River from Akwesasne Mohawk Indian territory in Quebec and through a wooded area near Frontier Road and Lost Nations Road in Churubusco.

Agents used traffic stops in those areas along with intelligence reports to amass their evidence for Tuesday’s indictments.

The organization alledgedly shipped drugs and currency across the U.S. border for delivery in New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and along the East Coast as far south as Florida.

Steven Sarti, 23, of Brossard, Quebec, identified as the “principal leader for the drug-trafficking ring,” was arrested June 17 in Wallace Pond, Vt.

Edward Kener, 31, of Weston, Fla.; Zachary Gouchie, 24, of Montreal; and John Belanger, 27, of Hartford, Conn., assisted Sarti in directing the movements of other members of the organization and were also arrested following the execution of warrants Tuesday, officials said.

Others arrested were Charles Keyes, 23, of East Brookfield, Mass.; Anthony Plata, 28, of Montreal, Que.; Oliver David, 22, of Saint Hebert, Que.; Jason Baldasare, 21, of Saint Constant, Que.; and Karl Bourassa, 23 of Saint Jean, Que.

Three additional men have yet to be arrested, including Richard Todd Adams, 35, of Summerton, Ontario, from whose compound on Akwesasne Mohawk Territory in Quebec drugs and currency were allegedly smuggled.

Several dozen others were arrested as couriers who officials believe either transported contraband or acted as decoys for the drug smugglers.

In a related indictment filed Feb. 4, 2009, two men were arrested for conspiracy to distribute about 25 kilograms of cocaine. Christos Chrissanthopoulus and Mathieu Marleau are both in federal custody following the arrest.

“Our law-enforcement partners were vigilant in protecting our border security and in bringing this organization to justice,” Jaquith said. “It’s an effort that no single agency can accomplish on its own.”

Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne praised the efforts to strengthen the federal law-enforcement presence in the North Country, and Clinton County DA Andrew Wylie said the combined efforts of local, state and federal agencies will continue to bring criminals to justice along the northern border.

Along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, other agencies involved included the Drug Enforcement Agency, which hosted the press conference at its new headquarters near the Plattsburgh State Police Barracks on Route 22 South, the U.S. Border Patrol, New York State Police and the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office.



E-mail Jeff Meyers at:

jmeyers@pressrepublican.com

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