Acting on public tips, Calgary police have shuttered a sophisticated fentanyl lab in a suburban community that investigators believe is linked to a global network of organized criminals.
A Calgary husband and wife are facing five dozen charges linked to drug trafficking and production, firearms and currency counterfeiting after an investigation into a “dial-a-dope” operation led to a trove of illicit and deadly drugs and an ad hoc manufacturing facility that had to ability to produce 120,000 fentanyl pills a day.
In addition to a host of criminal charges, the duo are also the first ever to be charged under new provincial legislation enacted last year that outlaws the ownership or use of unlicensed pill manufacturing equipment.
“This is more than just traditional organized crime, this is non-traditional organized crime, which fuels violence here in the city,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Hatchette with the police strategic enforcement unit.
“We are looking at our other national organized crime ties as well as international organized crime ties. I would consider this a mid-level bust — people that work for major organized criminal organizations across the world.”
Police began tightening the snare on the illegal operation after a traffic stop Oct. 12 that netted a haul of illegal drugs including 100 fentanyl pills, a semi-automatic handgun and nearly $60,000 in high-grade counterfeit Canadian currency.
The bust led to a search warrant being served by the police gang enforcement team on a home on Evansborough Green N.W., about 200 metres away from a Catholic elementary/junior high school.
Inside the home’s attached garage, investigators found what is believed to be a fentanyl production lab with an industrial-style electric pill press and a manual press, some 1,145 fentanyl pills and other drugs, $429,600 in counterfeit Canadian cash and another $25,700 in fake US bills.
A pair of firearms — a shotgun and a semi-automatic rifle recently pilfered during a break and enter in Panorama — were also discovered.
Hatchette said the pill presses, which under new Alberta law passed last year, are illegal and can net an offender a $50,000 for a first offence and up to a $375,000 fine and/or a year in jail, are frustratingly hard to prevent being purchased through online sources.
“This is one of those things where there are loopholes and you can pretty much buy anything online,” he said.
“We are working with our external partners, other agencies, CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) specifically, in order to address some of these types of issues.”
Preliminary tests of the substances found in the garage unearthed not only fentanyl, but W18 as well, a derivative of the deadly opioid that is about 100 times more toxic.
Due to the potency of the chemicals involved, Hatchette said first responders are in peril whenever such an operation is discovered.
“What we’re seeing now is we’re seeing danger not only to those who are addicted, we’re seeing danger to our first responders,” he said.
“This is our line in the sand. We no longer will allow this to happen in our city.”
In addition to the drugs and guns, Hatchette said the highly sophisticated nature of the counterfeit cash, which was good enough to fool local banks and have been linked to 99 confirmed cases, is also a concern.
In addition to the funny money seized, investigators discovered enough meticulously crafted hologram strips to produce another $4.5 million in Canadian counterfeit money.
Charged with 59 criminal and provincial statutes are Behrooz Rafizada, 27, and his wife, Jocelynn Saliba, 28, though Hatchette noted the investigation is ongoing.
“We can’t stress enough how important it is to take this and the other pill press … off the street,” he said, adding the manual press had to be destroyed due to contamination.
“We don’t criminalize addiction in the Calgary Police Service and here in the city, but what we do is we hammer the people that provide and it’s very, very important to know that this is a big dent and can provide a big dent in that trafficking within our city.
“This investigation is far from over.”