This week, authorities charged more than a dozen people involved in a large scale tobacco smuggling operation using tractor trailers.
Thirteen people, some of whom are truckers, are facing fifteen charges related to fraud involving the smuggling of contraband tobacco, possession of unstamped tobacco products, and conspiracy to move contraband tobacco and to possess unstamped tobacco products.
The charges were announced on September 29 by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) following an investigation that began in 2018 under the name “Project Butane.”
Investigators say that between September 2, 2017, and May 27, 2019, the 13 people who were charged were part of a criminal organization that smuggled 88 loads of bulk tobacco, costing the Canadian government $450 million in lost tobacco duties and taxes.
From the CBSA:
As part of this investigation, two loads of around 18,000 kg of bulk tobacco each, were intercepted on May 10, 2018, and May 27, 2019, at the St-Bernard-de-Lacolle and Herdman, in Montérégie, border crossings, respectively. In the first seizure, the bulk tobacco had been declared as a load of fruit, and in the second, it was concealed under a load of wood chips.
Additionally, on June 5, 2019, more than 100 CBSA officers, supported by the Sûreté du Québec and some municipal police forces, executed 26 search warrants in Montérégie and Centre-du-Québec, and made eight arrests, collecting several pieces of evidence that allowed for these charges to be filed.
As a result of Project Butane, the Canadian government seized 3 tractor trailers, 38 cellphones, 12 computers, and 36,000 kg of tobacco.
The thirteen people charged as part of the Project Butane investigation are Martin Bessette, Éric Landry, Alfred Binette, Serge Bourque, Étienne Demers, Kedryc Girouard-Fournier, Pierre Leblanc, Michel Savoie, Michel Frédéric Riendeau, Mathieu Dinnigan-Lanthier, Reynald Jacques, Christos Georgaros and Curtis Lewis Thompson.
“The CBSA and its officers are very attentive to contraband tobacco, in particular with regard to large-scale contraband strategies in commercial vehicles. This type of activity harms Canada’s economy by encouraging the black market. All offenders are subject to sanctions and legal proceedings,” the CBSA said in a September 29 statement.