Over the past decade, more than a dozen B.C. residents have been charged and convicted in the United States of money laundering.
Canadians have faced more justice south of the border for cleaning illicit profits than they have at home, including Ariel Savein, who was moving cash for a Mexican cartel, and Omid Mashinchi, who pleaded guilty last year in Boston to laundering B.C. drug money,
Police experts say that sometimes it’s more effective to turn over evidence they have collected in Canada to their U.S. counterparts, who have a better chance of conviction.
In fact, a Postmedia investigation has revealed that successful money laundering prosecutions in B.C. are rare.
But some lawyers who specialize in extradition believe Canadians accused of committing cross-border crimes like money laundering or drug trafficking should be held accountable in this country.
At least two B.C. men are still in Canada despite being charged years ago with laundering cash in Washington state. Trevor Jones, twin brother of full-patch Hells Angel Randy Jones, was charged in 2011 with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, as well as money laundering. Neither Canadian nor American authorities could say this week whether an extradition request has been made.
And gang associate Glenn Sheck is alleged to have laundered millions in the U.S. and Canada between 2007 and 2012. He was ordered committed for extradition in November 2017. Sheck has filed an appeal, which is set to be heard on April 4.
Vancouver Police Supt. Mike Porteous said B.C. investigators inevitably work with their international counterparts when probing organized criminals involved in cross-border crime.And he said the Americans have a wider array of laws related to money laundering and other major crimes, allowing for more success in complex prosecutions.
“It is more difficult to prosecute international drug trafficking and laundering in Canada than it is in the United States or Australia or in these other places where these tentacles reach,” Porteous said. “We routinely share investigative information with other agencies, including international agencies.”
Vancouver police aided the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in its investigation of Savein, who ended up being extradited to California where he pleaded guilty in 2015. He was one of several Canadian money couriers used by the Sinaloa and La Familia cartels to collect millions owed to the gangs by B.C. drug traffickers.
Savein was caught after dropping off $811,850 stuffed in a duffel bag in the parking lot of what was then a Rona store near Grandview Highway. Two Mexican men living in Vancouver delivered more than $6 million in B.C. drug cash to their cartel in the same case.
Metro Vancouver lawyer Gary Botting has represented clients who’ve been extradited to the U.S. to face money laundering and other charges. He believes that if even a part of the alleged offence has been committed in Canada, B.C. residents should be prosecuted on this side of the border.
He said federal Justice Department officials are supposed to review requests for extradition to see if the case in question should be prosecuted in Canada.
But Botting said “never have I heard of a (Canadian) prosecutor taking over the case.”
“Canada has shirked its duty, frankly, in terms of not prosecuting up here,” Botting said.
He said he always makes the argument in extradition hearings that B.C. residents should be prosecuted in a Canadian jurisdiction if the crime occurred at least in part in Canada.
The Financial Transaction and Reports Analysis Centre or Fintrac, Canada’s financial intelligence-gathering agency, conducted a review of money-laundering court prosecutions between 2000 and 2014.
The review, obtained under Canada’s freedom of information laws, found that proceeds of crime were almost entirely generated by drug-related offences and fraud. In fact, most of the B.C. residents convicted in the U.S. of money laundering – like United Nations gang founder Clay Roueche – were involved in drug trafficking.
Roueche pleaded guilty almost a decade ago to heading a massive international drug operation and to laundering the ring’s dirty money. U.S. agents seized over $2 million U.S. during their investigation into Roueche and his associates, which paralleled a Canadian probe by B.C.’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit.
Canadians have used a variety of methods for moving drug cash across the border, according to a review of hundreds of pages of U.S. court files — including Bitcoin purchases, wire transfers and cash secreted in hidden compartments in vehicles.
Mashinchi, a Wolf Pack associate who was sentenced in November to two years in prison, transferred hundreds of thousands in U.S. funds from his Vancouver bank to a bank in Boston, knowing the money was “derived from drug trafficking,” U.S. documents said.
Richmond businessman Vincent Ramos, who is to be sentenced in San Diego next month, laundered $80 million he got from criminal organizations using bitcoin and shell companies.
He pleaded guilty in October of facilitating the transnational importation and distribution of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine around the world through the sale of encrypted devices.
John Mohammadi pleaded guilty in 2010 to bulk cash smuggling after Washington border patrol agents found $350,000 U.S. stuffed into vacuum-sealed bags in a secret compartment in his cases.
But it was Canadian border guards who first found the compartment, months earlier, when Mohammadi was returning to B.C. Inside the compartment was a key fob and a Bank of America debit card in the name of a North Vancouver drug trafficker. They didn’t tell Mohammadi they had found it, but passed the information to their U.S. counterparts.
Porteous, the Vancouver police superintendent, said ultimately police want to get at criminal networks even “if for whatever reason a case is not prosecutable in Canada.” That means sharing intelligence with police and related agencies in the U.S. and internationally.
“I am in the public safety business. Money laundering is a threat to the public. Drug trafficking is a threat to the public. Weapons trafficking is a threat to the public. And all of the derivative violence that is a result of those activities is a threat to the public. So anything we can do to mitigate that threat, we do,” he said.