Under the guise of a religious movement that abstains from the sins of the modern world, Mexican Mennonites with connections to some of the world’s most vicious cartels have established a drug smuggling pipeline near the Alberta border.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) indicted seven people and seized 11,000 pounds of marijuana destined for the midwest states. It also confiscated 30 kilograms of cocaine that was bound for several small towns in Alberta. Investigators say the drugs were ultimately destined for Calgary, where dealers can turn a higher profit than in the United States.
“It’s very popular amongst Mexican cartel members to attempt to move cocaine into Canada because it commands a premium price,” said Jim Schrant, an agent with the DEA. “In one of our investigations, [the dealer] said it was the land of milk and honey for them because they could double their money shipping it and selling it in Canada.”
The investigation began several years ago in the United States with the discovery that old tractors and farm implements were being used to hide shipments of cocaine and marijuana from Mexico to the U.S. It spread to Canada when the DEA, using wire taps and surveillance, identified a group in Alberta that was receiving a lot of the cocaine, Mr. Schrant said.
“We partnered very well with the RCMP and between the two agencies, we identified a much larger international organization that comprised a lot of people from the Mexican Mennonite community, which had deep, historical relationships to other Mennonite communities in the U.S. and Canada.”
The Mennonites are a Christian sect, similar to other pacifist and agrarian-based societies such as the Amish or the Hutterites. Fleeing persecution in Europe and Russia, they settled throughout the western prairies at the turn of the century. In the 1920s, several thousand Mennonites from Manitoba and the Swift Current area of Saskatchewan pulled up stakes to form colonies in Mexico. One of these, in the land-locked state of Chihuahua, was close to the city of Juarez — a border town now plagued by violence between Mexican authorities and the Juarez drug cartel. Estimates suggest tens of thousands of people have died in the ensuing war on drugs.
The same methods were used to distribute the far-more profitable cocaine, which is typically shipped from South America via Mexico.“In this region of Chihuahua, Mexico, in a large number of Mexican Mennonites areas, there are large marijuana farms on some of these locations,” Mr. Schrant said. “There was also an alliance with the Juarez cartel, which is one of the most powerful cartels in Mexico. They were paying a tax or a tribute to ship the marijuana north and distribute it.”Although founded on principles of simple, godly living, the Mexican Mennonite communities have been beset with social problems for the past decade, including drug and alcohol abuse and drug trafficking. Plagued by worsening economic conditions, several hundred Mennonites returned to Canada in the past year.
The RCMP responded aggressively to the prospect of the Mexican cartels operating in Canada, said Mr. Schrant, adding that more charges are expected to be laid north of the border in the coming weeks.
The RCMP declined to comment on an ongoing investigation. However, an item on the evolving nature of transnational crime published in the RCMP magazine The Gazette acknowledges the emerging presence of the cartels.
“More recently, there’s been evidence of a definite cartel presence in Canada, specifically Mexican cartels,” the article, by Supt. Rick Penney with the Greater Toronto Drug Operations, read. “The roles of those individuals within Canada are very much those of gatekeepers, involved in the importation and distribution of cocaine, as well as logistics and money laundering [and] currency movement.”
“[The Mexican Mennonite] dealer was not different than the others. They had kinship networks up here that they unloaded the product on. The Mexican Mennonites were the ones bringing it into the country and downloading it to the Canadian Mennonites who were then selling a lot of it.”Frederick Desroches, a professor of sociology at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ont., wrote a 2005 book entitled The Crime that Pays: Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime in Canada. He interviewed incarcerated drug dealers representing dozens of groups — including a Mexican Mennonite. He said drug smugglers prefer to keep their operations within tight-knit ethnic clans to reduce the risk of betrayal.
As almost all of the world’s cocaine can be sourced in South America, the product becomes pricier — and therefore more profitable — the more borders it crosses.
“Every time you cross a country’s border, the price goes up five to $10,000 a kilo,” he said. At the time he published the book, Mr. Desroches said “you could buy it in Colombia in high quantities as low as $1,000 a kilo. Then you’re selling it for $35,000 up here: sure there are huge profit margins, but then how do you get it out here?”
The DEA said it has arrested about 20 people in connection with the drug trafficking ring over the past several years. Of the seven people listed in this month’s indictment, one was arrested in New Mexico in August. The others six are still on the lam. In addition, two people are being held in Canada on U.S. extradition warrants, Mr. Schrant said. RCMP arrested another two suspects as part of a spin-off investigation.