|RE:Pay Pop: Pot probe targets Harrison Hot Springs|
Waterfront restaurant apparently at the centre of a massive international smuggling operation
Kim Bolan and Neal Hall
Thursday, June 29, 2006
CREDIT: Peter Battistoni, Vancouver Sun
The Breakwater restaurant on the shores of Harrison Lake is now closed. It was leased by a man named Daryl Gilles Desjardins, known to the locals as a quiet, good neighbour with a taste for flashy cars and known to police as an alleged big-time drug smuggler now in jail awaiting trial.
CREDIT: Peter Battistoni, Vancouver Sun
The Breakwater Restaurant on the shores of Harrison Lake at Harrison Hot Springs now sits empty.
Covert police surveillance video of a marijuana smuggling operation that employed a helicopter to ferry bags of drugs across the border. (Global National image via U.S. Department of Homeland Security and RCMP)
HARRISON HOT SPRINGS, B.C. -- A B.C. businessman is accused of a massive cross-border drug smuggling ring which allegedly used helicopters to airlift loads of marijuana into the United States.
Daryl Gilles Desjardins, 44, led a luxurious life in bucolic Harrison Hot Springs, running a popular waterfront restaurant and cruising the lakeside resort town in flashy cars like Vipers and Ferraris.
But RCMP investigators quietly moved in on the Breakwater Restaurant last month, arresting Desjardins and seizing a Bell JetRanger helicopter stored in a tin shed beside the eatery that Desjardins had run for a couple of years.
Desjardins, and his co-accused, Dustin Melvin Haugen, remain in jail on the charges. Both made brief appearances in Chilliwack provincial court this week to set a trial date for next January.
The RCMP and several U.S. law enforcement agencies are to hold a news conference in Bellingham, Wash., today to release the results of a joint two-year investigation of cross-border drug smuggling involving a network of criminal organizations.
In the meantime, police are refusing to comment on the Desjardins and Haugen arrests, or the seizure of the helicopter that had been raising the curiosity of local residents for months.
"At the moment, we are not at liberty to discuss that," RCMP Cpl. Norm Massie, of the Integrated Border Enforcement Team, said this week.
Court documents obtained by The Vancouver Sun on the Desjardins and Haugen charges allege that on or around May 9, 2006, at or near the District of Kent, in the Fraser Valley, the pair "did unlawfully export from Canada" marijuana.
The pair is charged with trafficking and Desjardins faces an additional charge of possessing firearms and ammunition on May 10, 2006, contrary to a court order made last February.
That order came after Desjardins was charged with impaired driving and possession of a firearm in connection with smashing his Viper into a cliff in Harrison Hot Springs early one August morning two years ago.
The crash apparently followed an evening of partying aboard a large speed boat on the lake. Local residents say Desjardins did a couple of doughnuts in the Viper before losing control of the $85,000 vehicle. Police called to the scene recovered a weapon.
Haugen, 24, also has a history of criminal convictions. Last July, he received a one-year conditional sentence after being found guilty of a drug-related extortion in Surrey in 2003. This week he was ordered to remain in custody after breaching the earlier sentence conditions.
The Breakwater Restaurant is on a point overlooking Harrison Lake, surrounded by mountains and the nearby town of Harrison Hot Springs, about 120 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.
Last weekend, people were seen removing tables and other fixtures from Desjardins' restaurant, which has been closed since his arrest.
All was quiet this week when The Sun visited the old two-storey white building, with the flowers on the patio still in full bloom. But a few months ago, area residents regularly saw an array of expensive vehicles -- including Hummers, Vipers and Harleys -- in the parking lot beside the restaurant.
Local residents said the Bell JetRanger would fly at odd times of the day. Immediately upon landing, a special dolly would be used to roll the helicopter into the shed.
It is not the only aircraft linked by law enforcement in recent months to alleged cross-border drug smuggling. While authorities were hesitant to comment this week, the RCMP said last fall that organized crime groups were increasingly turning to the skies to get large quantities of marijuana into the U.S., returning with stashes of cocaine, cash or weapons.
Last September two alleged B.C. smugglers were killed when their helicopter crashed near Hope. One of them had previously been charged as part of a major U.S. drug ring. Also that same month, three B.C. men were arrested in Washington state, and their helicopter seized, after they were found with 55 kilograms of marijuana.
"What we've noticed lately is a lot of helicopters. It is a large increase," RCMP Const. Randall Wong said last fall.
Helicopters are the preferred means of transport for many reasons. For one, they can be picked up used as cheaply as $100,000 and don't need a runway to take off. Also, owners don't need insurance and aren't required to file flight plans for short-haul trips.
"The criminal element will actually hire a pilot to teach people how to fly helicopters. They are not going to ground school, as they are supposed to," Wong said. "They buy these helicopters and their whole mentality is the more product I can get across the border quicker, the better off we are."
Wong said criminal gangs don't need bank loans to buy helicopters; they are able to pay in cash with drug money. They will offer a farmer near the border a large monthly fee to store the helicopter.
The low-profile of helicopter smugglers was raised in July 2005 when Playboy magazine featured a story on an unnamed Harrison Hot Springs smuggler who claimed to be transporting two tonnes a week of B.C. Bud across the border while raking in more than $2 million a month in profit. The drop points on both sides were remote, wooded mountain areas that were located by Global Positioning System coordinates, Playboy reported.
In April 2006, police contacted Leo Facio, the mayor of Harrison Hot Springs, to inform him that police would be investigating in the area.
Faciosaid this week that he never noticed anything unusual about the Breakwater Restaurant.
"The odd occasion I went there for dinner and I wasn't aware of any problems," he said. "There's always helicopters going over the lake."
Jim Killer, who runs Killer's Cove Marina in front of the Breakwater, said he noticed a helicopter flying around the area "from time to time."
He said the Breakwater was an upscale restaurant with white linen on the tables. "It was pretty first-class," he said.
Killer said he saw Desjardins in passing, describing him as "a good neighbour." He said if there was late-night partying going on at the restaurant, it must have been quiet because he didn't hear anything out of the ordinary.
"They were absolutely decent neighbours," said Killer.
However, Desjardins has links to criminals and shady businesses, according to U.S. and Canadian court documents.
He was ordered by the U.S. District Court last September to pay more than $5 million US for his role in a fraudulent scheme to sell the stock of Pay Pop Inc., a now defunct telecommunications company that was based in B.C.
Desjardins, who acted as Pay Pop's president, worked with controversial Vernon stock promoter Robert Zaba, in what the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission alleged was a classic "pump-and-dump" scheme that earned them millions as they put out false news releases about the company's assets.
"The complaint alleged that by the end of the fraudulent scheme, approximately 98 million Pay Pop shares were illegally issued and distributed to the public," the September 2005 court order against Desjardins says.
"As a result of the scheme, the complaint alleged that Zaba and Desjardins made over $3 million from the sale of Pay Pop stock."
The SEC also alleged the pair paid bribes to a former CIBC Mellon Trust Co. executive to issue bogus stock certificates for Pay Pop.
Last year, CIBC Mellon Trust agreed to pay the SEC more than $6 million US to settle a number of allegations, included those against Alnoor Jiwan, who was the company's most senior employee in Vancouver until 1999.
The SEC said Jiwan was bribed to issue hundreds of thousands of Pay Pop shares when it was virtually a worthless company.
SEC documents also say that Desjardins "even boasted that Pay Pop was his own 'printing press' for money, while at the same time bartering Pay Pop stock for several exotic cars and an ownership interest in a thoroughbred racehorse."
During the Pay Pop probe, the RCMP said the company was linked to the Hells Angels.
"We have found some definitive links between the entire Pay Pop scam and the Hells Angels criminal organization," Bill Majcher, who headed the RCMP's Integrated Market Enforcement Team, told a reporter in December 2004.
Desjardins also did business with Sameer Mapara, who was later convicted of first-degree murder for arranging a hit on Vik Chand outside Mapara's Rags to Riches luxury car dealership in October 1998.
Chand was also a close associate of cocaine dealer Bindy Johal, who was gunned down two months later.
That same fall, Desjardins paid Mapara 350,000 to 450,000 of illegally issued Pay Pop shares for a black Porsche from Rags to Riches. The Porsche 911 was later seized by bailiffs pursuing a $123,500 sales tax bill owed by Rags to Riches to the government.
Desjardins' appetite for the fast life was laid out in a detailed statement from a witness in the Pay Pop case, who said "the money raised by Pay Pop from investors was used by Desjardins to purchase expensive vehicles and a home.
"For example, between 1998 and 1999, Desjardins purchased: a house located at 28725 Zero Ave., Abbotsford, a BMW worth approximately $70,000, a Hummer worth about $130,000, a Ferrari worth about $250,000, four Ski-Doos worth about $40,000 plus the installation of a motor in a Ski-Doo for $35,000, a Yukon Denali worth about $65,000, a Porsche worth $120,000, Nissan Pathfinder worth $20,000, Acura worth $30,000, two Corvettes worth $80,000, Camaro worth $20,000, Dodge 4x4 worth $40,000, Ford F350 worth $68,000, speed ski boat worth $50,000, three Harley-Davidsons worth total of $134,000, home stereo equipment worth $100,000 and a diamond worth $22,000," the document states.
The witness also said that prior to 1998 "Desjardins had a problem meeting his rent/mortgage payments and did not have anywhere near this type of wealth."
© Global National 2006