Thursday, 14 February 2008
Manitoba-based ephedrine smuggling ring were ordered yesterday to stand trial May 28 in Buffalo, N.Y. Hugh Stevens and Sandra Jacobi were caught up with dozens of others by RCMP and the Drug Enforcement Agency in the alleged smuggling scheme which was based in Winnipeg and Lac Du Bonnet.Stevens, 61, and Jacobi, 50, had originally agreed to plea bargains, but those deals fell apart over the last six months. Both will stand trial by jury. Stevens has been in custody since his arrest in September 2004.In Winnipeg, a preliminary hearing for two suspects continues at the Law Courts Building.The case centres on how bulk amounts of ephedrine ended up in a California meth lab controlled by the Mexican Mafia. The ephedrine was legally imported into Canada through a Thunder Bay, Ont., company, but allegedly diverted onto the black market. Ephedrine is banned in the U.S. Its sale is regulated in Canada by Health Canada. Two of the eight Canadian defendants are no longer alive to be prosecuted. Lac du Bonnet resident Rodger Bruneau Sr. was charged as being the ring's kingpin, but he died in his sleep of an accidental drug overdose about three years ago. A tenth defendant, Emmanuel (Manny) Barbagianis, was shot to death in Winnipeg two years ago. His slaying remains unsolved. DEA agents, RCMP and Winnipeg police arrested about 90 people in the smuggling scheme, called Operation Brain Drain in the U.S. All suspects arrested in the U.S. except Stevens and Jacobi have agreed to plea deals -- reduced sentences in exchange for their testimony against Stevens and Jacobi.It's alleged Bruneau and Stevens recruited other people to use cars, trucks and horse trailers to move hundreds of pounds of ephedrine from Canada into the U.S. through the Niagara-Buffalo region. In July 2004, police found 195 kilograms of ephedrine hidden with a horse in a trailer that they had followed from a racetrack outside Hamilton, Ont., across the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge.