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Friday, 29 July 2011

Two convicted in $26-million Island cocaine bust

Two men arrested in connection with a $26-million cocaine bust in Port Hardy in March 2010 have been convicted of possession for the purpose of trafficking.

Scott Pedersen, 39, a commercial diver and former Port Hardy fisherman, and Mexican citizen Vincente Serrano-Hernandez, 38, are to be sentenced next Monday.

After deliberating for a full day, a sombre-looking B.C. Supreme Court jury filed into court and delivered their verdict. Three women jurors left the courtroom in tears.

During the trial, which began in May, the jury heard the two accused were on board the Huntress when it sailed from Panama to Port Hardy, transporting 1,001 kilograms of cocaine.

The cocaine was brought ashore on Shushartie Bay in 37 duffel bags on March 6.

The Crown argued that the quality and value of the cocaine clearly indicated it was for drug trafficking, not for personal consumption.

The Crown also described the unusual circumstances surrounding the Huntress when it was seen by a patrol plane on a routine surveillance flight March 5 at Cape Scott. It was running without lights and travelling along the unsheltered west coast of Vancouver Island.

When the crew called the sailboat on the marine channel, the man who responded to a hail could not find the vessel's call sign or registration papers. The boat did not respond to a subsequent hail asking when it would arrive in Port Hardy.

Three hours later, using infrared radar, the surveillance crew captured a rendezvous between the Huntress and a smaller boat, which made two to four trips between the beach and the sailboat.

Defence lawyers Robert Mulligan and Jeremy Mills told jurors the Crown's evidence in identifying the sailboat was not good enough.


Times were good for Carlsbad pilot John Ward as he smuggled cocaine across the U.S. for Mexico's Sinaloa cartel.

John Charles Ward would take flight in the half-light before dawn, when he could race down the runway without headlights and ascend into the cloaking embrace of an overcast sky.

Soaring above the crowded California freeways in the single-engine aircraft, he'd relax, pour himself a whiskey and Seven and plan his hopscotch route to Pennsylvania. Inside the plane were 242 pounds of cocaine; outside, nothing but clouds.

"There are no curbs in the sky," Ward said. "There's no place for anybody to pull you over."

Flying shipments for the Sinaloa drug cartel was Ward's best gig in years. No street dealing, packaging or other grubby chores required. He delivered cocaine to a distributor in Pennsylvania and returned with duffel bags stuffed with up to $2.8 million, keeping a few 6-inch stacks of cash for himself.

Taking off from Riverside County's Corona Municipal Airport at dawn, Ward could be back the next day, feeding twenties and hundreds into the counting machine at his home in Carlsbad.

Still, he had some nagging concerns. The Mexican distributors in Pennsylvania were trying to cut costs by hiring immigrant truckers to haul drugs from Southern California. And U.S. agents were keeping a close watch on traffickers in the historic towns of Lancaster County, Pa., a distribution hub.

Ward was an expert at covering his tracks. He usually stayed at a cottage-style motel just off the runway at Smoketown Airport, the self-described "Gateway to Pennsylvania's Amish Country." After midnight he donned black clothing and lugged cocaine-filled gym bags from the plane to his room. He avoided people, paid cash for most purchases and, if anybody asked, said he was an aircraft broker.

"The money never stopped. The product never stopped," he said. "Everything was moving continuously."

Veteran of the trade

By the time President Nixon declared the "war on drugs" in 1971, Ward had been transporting dope to California for years. He grew weed at a farm he owned in Missouri and shipped it by truck. A few years later, responding to demand for better pot, he partnered with marijuana farmers in Mexican villages and hired pilots -- some of them Vietnam War veterans -- to fly the drugs across the border.

But they were unreliable prima donnas. So he decided to get a pilot's license. He went to Hawaii to train in crosswinds, headwinds and on island hops.

"I said to myself: 'I'm going to be the best smuggler there is. I'm going to be the one without an attitude,' " Ward said.

Over three decades, he piloted more than 50 planes, from cramped Beechcraft Musketeer three-seaters to an Aero Commander 500 that he'd jam with 1,500 pounds of marijuana. In the 1970s and '80s, he made short trips to northern Mexico, landing on runways marked by burning tires, and made long flights through the Sierra Madre, where joyous farmers rode alongside his plane on horseback, shooting pistols into the air. I said to myself: ‘I’m going to be the best smuggler there is. I’m going to be the one without an attitude.’”

Ward was scrappy and resourceful, an adrenaline junkie with a taste for the finer things. His smuggling paid for a desert estate, a sailboat named Romancing and Dom Perignon-fueled parties. He relished the challenges of aerial smuggling and devised ingenious ways to avoid detection.

He'd fly across the border skimming treetops to evade radar. He'd land in the desert, at improvised airstrips where his crews laid generator-powered runway lights. For engine troubles, he packed a tool bag with fuses and wrenches. For human problems, he tucked a 9-millimeter handgun in his waistband.

One step ahead

Federal authorities, who had been aware of Ward's air smuggling since 1975, chased him in the desert sky, bugged his phones and planted tracking devices on his aircraft, some of which he found and kept behind his bar at home to show off to his drinking buddies.


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Customs make £5.8m drug haul in frozen chips

A man has been accused of smuggling £5.8 million-worth of heroin, cocaine and cannabis in bags of frozen chips.

Otto Landman, from Eesveen in the Netherlands, appeared at Dover Magistrates' Court today.

He denied attempting to smuggle the drugs into the UK and was remanded in custody.

Officers stopped a Dutch registered lorry on June 30 at the inward freight controls of Dover's Eastern Docks.

When they searched the vehicle and its load of frozen chips, they found approximately 100 kilos of heroin, 15 kilos of cocaine and 250 kilos of cannabis.

The combined estimated street value of the drugs is estimated to be £5.8 million.

Enquiries by UK Border Agency investigators are continuing.

Carole Upshall, UK Border Agency Director for the south coast ports, said: "This is an excellent example of how UK Border Agency officers work tirelessly to detect and prevent drugs from being smuggled into the UK.

"We are determined to crack down on this terrible trade which can have such a destructive impact on the lives of so many.


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