Drug bust just scratches surface, police say

A record $12-million cocaine bust at Calgary International Airport has put only a minor dent in this affluent city’s continuing love affair with the addictive white powder, police and drug addiction workers say.

“We’re always busy,” said Calgary RCMP drug section Staff Sgt. Birnie Smith. “I don’t think (use) has increased but it hasn’t slowed down.

“We’re an affluent city and there’s certainly coke use here,” he said. “There is a lot of cocaine trafficking going on here — but is it worse than any other city per capita, I don’t know.”

Although he had no hard figures, Keith Hughes, Alberta Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission spokesman, said cocaine addiction in the city has increased in the past few years.

Calgary psychologist Perry Sirota said cocaine usage has become more accepted as people’s values change.

“I get a lot of calls for cocaine addiction. Its use is probably higher than the statistics report,” Sirota said. “There wouldn’t be a $12-million bust unless there was a market for it.”

Seated behind piles of cocaine bricks wrapped in plastic and smeared with grease and cold cream, police and customs agents explained Tuesday how they made the largest cocaine seizure in Alberta history.

Bob Cairns, the airport’s chief Canada Customs and Revenue agent, said the officers who found the cocaine — worth $6 million in its pure form and $12 million if it were diluted and sold on the street — were shocked.

“We regularly have kilo and multi-kilo seizures,” he said. “This is definitely out of the ordinary. This is more than we would regularly get in a year in Calgary.”

Smith said the cocaine could have been destined for Calgary streets or for Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto. Alternatively, it could have been bound for the United States by car, he said.

Calgary was likely chosen as the entry point for the coke due to high seizure rates at other Canadian cities, he said.

Smith said there is no apparent connection between the cocaine seizure here and the seizure of 156 kilograms of heroin in two separate, massive busts in Vancouver and Toronto in the past week.

Cairns said customs officials found the behaviour of Ricardo Rangel Corona, 45, of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and Evelia Barreto Robles, 27, (earlier incorrectly identified as a male) of Talpa De Alcende, Mexico, was unusual, leading them to examine their three bags. JCQC (the accused), 28, was arrested later, allegedly with $9,000.

Shackled and clad in prison overalls, they appeared in provincial court Tuesday charged with importing a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking.

“Do you speak English?” Judge D.M. McDonald asked them.

“A little,” one of the men replied.

They are to return to court Thursday after an interpreter has been found for them.

The luggage was stacked next to the cocaine at RCMP headquarters Tuesday, still carrying tags noting American Airlines flights 362 from Puerto Vallarta to Dallas-Fort Worth and 867 to Calgary.

Smith said the man and woman who allegedly brought the drugs through the Calgary airport were likely just couriers for a larger operation, possibly based in Peru, Colombia or Bolivia.

“We don’t know where it will lead,” he said. “We’ll try and follow it up right to its source.

“A lot of times the couriers are pawns in the big scheme. (The dealers) may send 20 shipments knowing two will get taken. They could care less about the couriers. They’re expendable.”

While the accused has retained lawyer Patrick Fagan to represent him, Corona and Robles did not have legal counsel when they appeared in court Tuesday.

Smith said the three could face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

“In reality, they’re not going to get that,” he said. “If they were dupes, the sentence will reflect that.”

Gordon Luchia of Canada Customs said the Mexicans would be handed over to Canada Immigration if they are acquitted or after they have completed any sentence a court gives them.