Times Colonist

$2,625,280 thrown overboard in raid

Cash seizure one of Mounties’ biggest ever

- JEFF BELL jwbell@timescolon­ist.com

A late-night encounter with a small boat off Sidney led RCMP to a suitcase filled with more than $2.6 million in American currency, one of the largest cash seizures in the history of the police agency.

A man tried to get rid of the suitcase by throwing it overboard as their boat approached, but officers plucked it from the waves before making an arrest, RCMP said.

“We pulled in behind him, they turned on the lights, he tried to manoeuvre out of the way and then they shut him down,” Supt. Derek Simmonds, head of the RCMP’S Federal Border Integrity Program in B.C., said Tuesday.

The RCMP displayed the entire contents of the suitcase — $2,625,280 — at a news conference at their Island District headquarte­rs in Victoria.

With so much money in one place, security was tight and officers carrying automatic weapons kept watch. Reporters were asked to keep their distance behind a line of tape on the floor.

The incident happened just before midnight on March 24 near the CanadaU.S. border in an area that the RCMP said is known for smuggling activity.

Simmonds said it was necessary to wait several months before making the case public. “The investigat­ion was ongoing and there was a lot of avenues that we needed to follow up.”

The lone suspect is 44-year-old Jeffrey Melchior, of Lake Cowichan, who has been charged with possession of property obtained by crime and laundering the proceeds of crime.

He is to appear in court in Victoria Nov. 21.

Simmonds said the amount of money seized wasn’t a record for the RCMP, but “it is certainly up there on the scale.”

The money was organized in multiple bundles and wrapped in plastic, Simmonds said. “Moving currency or contraband in large sums like this is a common identifier for the work of organized crime.”

Given the amount of money seized, Simmonds said chances are good that it has made a dent in a criminal operation.

“I think this is a very positive outcome, in the world of organized crime and for this particular group, in disrupting their activity.”

Investigat­ors are trying to pinpoint what such a large sum was to be used for. “We’re not exactly certain what the intent was with the money,” Simmonds said.

“We’re confident that cash is moved frequently across the border. It is the foundation of organized criminal activity.”

Simmonds said the case has involved working with American investigat­ors, including staff from the Drug Enforcemen­t Administra­tion, the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security.

The captured boat, a five-metre, rigid-hulled inflatable, was singled out when it was detected operating in a suspicious fashion by the border program’s operations centre in Vancouver, which monitors radar feeds as part of regular scrutiny of marine traffic. “This vessel was noted around midnight travelling at a high rate of speed for the time,” Simmonds said.

The inflatable was not using lights and was heading toward the border about two nautical miles away. Details of the boat’s movements were passed to the RCMP marine patrol, which was on out on routine assignment, and the United States Coast Guard.

“It was part of our normal operating procedure that we had boats on the water,” Simmonds said. “As part of an ongoing operation, the Border Integrity Program has marine resources deployed in various areas of interest known to be used by persons involved in illegal crossborde­r criminal activity.”

Simmonds said the inflatable was boarded by RCMP officers in Swanson Channel, east of Saltspring Island. He said the capture of the boat was not a chase, and more a case of the police vessel intercepti­ng the inflatable.

He said that at the speed it was going, the boat was about six minutes from the border.

After the court case is over, all of the seized money will go to federal government coffers.

 ??  ?? What does $2,625,280 US look like? RCMP display the entire amount at their Island District headquarte­rs in Victoria Tuesday. The cash was intercepte­d in an encounter with a boat off Sidney. An Island man is due in court Nov. 21.
What does $2,625,280 US look like? RCMP display the entire amount at their Island District headquarte­rs in Victoria Tuesday. The cash was intercepte­d in an encounter with a boat off Sidney. An Island man is due in court Nov. 21.

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