Under the eyes of customs officials: more than 1,000 tons of tobacco passed through truck drivers

A group of truck drivers admitted in court to having passed under the noses of Canadian customs officials over a period of almost two years more than 1,000 tons of contraband tobacco bound for the Kahnawake Reservation.

From September 2017 to May 2019, the criminal organization transported 88 truckloads of tobacco across the border from the United States.

That fraud resulted in more than $217 million in missed federal tobacco taxes and duties, we learned this week at the Longueuil courthouse during the guilty pleas of eight co-defendants.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) project Butane allowed investigators to uncover the modus operandi of smugglers involving truckers, transport companies and goods importers.

The aim of the scam was to smuggle the tobacco so it could be shipped to the Kahnawake Indian Reservation on Montreal’s south shore.



On May 10, 2018, they seized 17,382 kg of tobacco, the equivalent of more than $2.5 million in evaded federal duties and taxes.



Archive photo

On May 10, 2018, they seized 17,382 kg of tobacco, the equivalent of more than $2.5 million in evaded federal duties and taxes.

Instead of fruits and vegetables

Two methods of operation were used to fool customs officials. The first involved two truck drivers crossing the border at the same time. One was transporting legitimate goods, namely fruit and vegetables destined for a reputable company. This shipping method is classified as “low risk” by the CBSA.

The other driver’s load was loaded with contraband tobacco and utilized a cover transaction from a grocery distribution company that was similar or identical to the first legitimate transaction.

And drivers swapped their trailer just before crossing the lines. They then took back their respective goods once in Canada.

The other modus operandi, involving a single trucker, was to hide the goods by a load filled to the brim with wood shavings. To this end, the organization even created a fictional company, Les Produits Forestiers Drummond.

Through various investigative techniques, including shadowing, analysis of phone records and other cell phone communications, geolocation data, and financial data, CBSA investigators were able to dismantle this network.



We see the vehicle of one of the truckers that was sent for the second inspection.  He tried to exchange the tractor and trailer with the second driver to avoid the search for the tobacco load.



Archive photo

We see the vehicle of one of the truckers that was sent for the second inspection. He tried to exchange the tractor and trailer with the second driver to avoid the search for the tobacco load.

Two seizures

The first mode of operation, with two truck drivers, ended in May 2018 after 17,382 kg of contraband tobacco was seized at the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle post.

At that time, the criminal organization hid the goods in the wood chips until a year later, when a second confiscation took place, this time at the Herdman border crossing, about twenty miles from Salaberry-de-Valleyfield.

Among the eight co-defendants who pleaded guilty are the two main leaders, Martin Bessette and Éric Landry, who were responsible for organizing the importation of tobacco products into the country.

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