Pubdate: Thu, 22 Jun 2006
Source: Montreal Gazet
Author: Paul Cherry, The Gazette
'Exported to U.S.'; 36 Held on Charges of Moving Pot, Ecstasy
In an operation dubbed Project Cleopatra because it targeted a wealthy and powerful woman alleged to have alliances with important figures in organized crime, the RCMP has busted what it described as a major drug-trafficking ring.
Sharon Simon, 48, was arrested at her luxury home in Kanesatake yesterday morning as part of an operation that involved more than 350 police officers, including members of the Aboriginal Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit.
Simon's home, with features like a three-car garage, stands out among others on Simon St., a dirt road in the Mohawk community about 50 kilometres west of Montreal.
The house was placed under a seizure order and could be confiscated as the proceeds of crime.
Thirty-five other people were also arrested yesterday, and 42 search warrants were executed in Greater Montreal, the Eastern Townships and Saskatchewan.
The RCMP also used the name of the legendary Egyptian queen because it begins with a C; all investigations initiated by the Mounties' C Division, based in Westmount, are labelled with a word that begins with C.
Residents of Kanesatake described Simon as an outsider who kept mostly to herself.
Simon is alleged to be the head of the network that focused on exporting marijuana and ecstasy to the United States, said Cpl. Sylvain L'Heureux, an RCMP spokesperson.
She has "very close ties" to members of the Hells Angels in Montreal, Sherbrooke and Trois Rivieres and to other organized crime groups, he added.
Simon is alleged to have used the biker gang's well-established drug-trafficking routes to move large quantities of illicit drugs.
L'Heureux said the network exported about 45 kilograms of marijuana to the United States per week, principally by truck.
Simon's other alleged contacts included two former members of the Magog municipal police. The two were among those arrested yesterday.
One of the two, Carl Thomas, 44, of Magog Township, is alleged to have co-ordinated the network's shipments across the border as it smuggled marijuana and ecstasy through points between Coaticook, in the Eastern Townships, and Cornwall, Ont.
Simon is also alleged to have used other organized crime contacts to launder $ million U.S. from January to May through more than 30 transactions the RCMP recorded at money exchange counters.
The investigation began in April 2005. In October, officers with the aboriginal police unit seized six firearms and more than $ million in a vehicle driven by Simon.
According to the RCMP, Simon's 21-year-old daughter, Annie Arbic of Laval, was among those arrested yesterday.
Simon's arrest yesterday and the incident in 2005 were not her first run-ins with the law. In 1995, she and seven other people were arrested as suspects in the attempted hijacking of a truck loaded with cigarettes in Dorval.
She was accused of conspiracy to commit robbery, but the charges were stayed a month after her arrest. Her partner, Andre Lagarde, was sentenced to two years less a day for his role in the botched hijacking.
More recently, Simon and Lagarde were accused of producing and trafficking in marijuana in Kanesatake in 2001. She pleaded guilty to producing marijuana, was fined $and sentenced to two years probation. Lagarde failed to show up for court dates in the same case in 2002, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
"The 'head office' was in Kanesatake and the drugs were distributed to the U.S., mainly by road," L'Heureux said. "We're talking about an organization that was very well structured and that has been in place for a long time."
The search warrant served in Saskatchewan involved a location where the police suspect the network was supplied with key ingredients to manufacture ecstasy.
The people arrested are expected to appear in court today in Montreal and Sherbrooke, where they face charges of producing and exporting drugs, conspiracy and gangsterism.