A police cocaine undercover investigation dating back to 2010 that resulted in a drug seizure valued at $4 million was a focal point of the RCMP E Division Southeast District awards and recognition ceremony held Thursday in Kelowna.
More than 15 police officers involved in the various aspects of that investigation, tagged as the “Fruit Grinder” case, received awards or commendations, presented by RCMP deputy commissioner Brenda Butterworth-Carr, the commanding officer for E Division, which encompasses British Columbia.
The investigation began with suspicions being raised about a “super-heavy” piece of farm equipment traveling from Argentina through Miami to Vancouver, with the ultimate destination being Kelowna.
The reason the 2,300-kilogram fruit-grinding machine seemed excessive in weight was because it was being deployed to smuggle nearly 100 kilograms of cocaine into Canada.
Given a heads up, local RCMP pulled all their drug investigative resources together quickly to launch an undercover operation to track the fruit-grinder from its arrival at Kelowna airport to an outdoor storage facility, waiting to be claimed by someone.
That someone turned out to be two West Kelowna men who retrieved the drugs and were followed to a ranch in Merritt, where they would be arrested while under surveillance.
In all, more than 50 RCMP investigators were ultimately involved in the investigation from beginning to end, with local law enforcement working with Canada Border Patrol and RCMP federal drug investigators along with U.S. Drug Enforcement administration and officials in Argentina and Mexico.
Butterworth-Carr called it “an incredibly complex investigation,” one that reflected the dedication police officers give to their profession.
“It was tremendous work on the part of everyone involved. I can’t say enough about the dedication, the leadership and the hours required, which took away from time that otherwise would have been spent on their regular duties and at home with their families,” Butterworth-Carr said.
She acknowledged the importance families play in dealing with the stress that comes from police officers having to work long hours, saying she made it a point during the ceremony to salute the value of that support role.
“The families, parents, siblings, loved ones…they are not always recognized and they need to be,” she said.
Those recognized at the awards ceremony related to the cocaine investigation included Csts. Shari Campbell, Dave Defrane, Jeff Faulkner, Peter Geldart, Steve Poohachoff and Aaron Hendsbee; Sgts. Dan Thorne, Bob Ursel, Al Tranminh and Trent Marshall; Crps. Chris Kronebusch, Brooke Argue, Ken Johnston and Eric Rensby; Supt. Brian Gateley; and Insp. Keith Pearce.
Other RCMP officers and public service employees also received various commendations for years of service and dedication to their duties at the ceremony, held at the Four Points by Sheraton in Kelowna.