Fort St. John RCMP have released details on two alleged drug busts that were executed on Sept. 9 and Oct. 19, including a hidden compartment in a vehicle – which, police say, is something they are beginning to see more of from organized crime.
The Alaska Highway News reported the Sept. 9 bust soon after it was announced, but on Tuesday, RCMP released details of how much illegal material they say officers seized.
The first bust, executed after a reported 18-month investigation, was by far the bigger one. Five residences in Fort St. John and one in Taylor were simultaneously raided and searched, police said, adding that 12 adults, ranging in age from 21 to 27, and three youths were arrested.
Police report seizing over a kilogram of cocaine, a kilogram of marijuana and a small amount of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate that authorities say is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine and many times more potent than heroin. It is highly addictive, police added, and easily overdosed on due to its strength.
RCMP also reported seizing brass knuckles, four shotguns and three rifles, one of them semi-automatic. There was also $300,000 in cash on the scene, police said, and two vehicles. Although all of the suspects were reportedly living in Fort St. John at the time of their arrest, two of them were originally from Abbotsford and one from Prince George.
Police also said the drugs were traced to the Lower Mainland.
“The people who were arrested have connections to organized crime units out of the Lower Mainland, and it’s a significant amount of drugs that were taken off the streets of Fort St. John, as well as the cash that has come from this, and other seized items,” said Fort St. John RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jodi Shelkie. “That is going to impact the drug organization, both in the Lower Mainland and in Fort St. John.”
She said that the Sept. 9 bust was one of the biggest seizures the Fort St. John RCMP has made, in terms of number of arrests and combined total value of drugs and related cash taken off the streets.
The second bust on Oct. 19 was considerably smaller, police said, explaining it consisted of 3,500 fentanyl pills, a pound of crack cocaine and approximately $30,000.
The 2006 Toyota Rav4 that was also seized had a hidden compartment built into it for transporting the drugs, police alleged. Shelkie said many of the items were seized directly from that compartment.
“We’re starting to see more technically advanced things like this coming from organized crime groups, where they’re hiding items in vehicles,” she said.
RCMP announced that Fort St. John resident Kenton Keithan Thomas, 25, as well as Summerland resident Kaleb Anthony Royer, 23, and one unnamed 25-year-old male from Vancouver are being recommended charges of possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking.
Although police said there is no explicit statistical linkage between socioeconomic factors and the amount and type of drugs seized, Shelkie said speaking as a police officer, what they found doesn’t surprise her.
“Marijuana is not the drug of choice in Fort St. John, cocaine is. It’s much more expensive than marijuana, but we have the income here to support that habit,” she said. “Not that we have statistics to prove it. But speaking as police officers, in a community like Fort St. John, if there is a high income base, there are more drugs – and they’re more expensive drugs.”
“The reality is that there is a lot of work that can be done up here – a lot of legal work, work that is not going to find you in jail. Work that is going to enable you to have a very good lifestyle,” said Mayor Lori Ackerman.
She hinted at a conversation with provincial authorities next week around the issue of drugs.
“We as a province need to be able to support some very intense resource development, and we’re not going to be able to do it successfully for the province if this is the kind of stuff that’s allowed to flow through the province,” Ackerman said.