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US authorities seize convoy bound for Florida, allegedly smuggled 270 kg of Canadian marijuana

US authorities seize convoy bound for Florida, allegedly smuggled 270 kg of Canadian marijuana

U.S. authorities recently intercepted a convoy of late model pickup trucks pulling trailers in New York state with more than 270 kilograms of Canadian-grown marijuana bound for Florida, according to U.S. court documents.

The February 5 bust was part of a multi-agency operation that included surveillance and wiretapping.

The operation, led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), tracked the movements of a motorboat on the St.Lawrence River and the departure of vehicles from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, which straddles the Canada-US border approximately 120 kilometers southwest of Montreal.

The convoy was eventually pulled over by New York State Police on Highway 87 southbound to Lake Placid, New York, with Florida as the final destination, according to an affidavit filed by the DEA.

The bust comes as the United States moves closer to removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill late last year to move the effort forward. The proposed change is expected to gain traction in a Democratic-controlled Senate.

New York and Florida are also moving towards legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, which has been legal in Canada since 2018.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in January that he plans to legalize and tax marijuana in the state by the end of the year. In Florida, state lawmakers are also in the process of legalizing recreational marijuana use this year, with bills introduced in the State House and Senate.

DEA warned intercepted text messages

The DEA began operations after receiving reports that “large amounts of marijuana” were being smuggled into the United States via Akwesasne, according to the affidavit filed by DEA agent Niles DuPont, who also works for the US Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Akwesasne Mohawk territory was cut in two by the border, leaving parts of the reserve in Canada, accessible only to the country by river, or through the United States by roads without a border checkpoint.

Given this geography, coupled with Akwesasne’s historic nationalism, the area was used to move tobacco north and marijuana south – mainly across the river by boat and snowmobile in the winter when ‘It is freezing.

The DEA has been granted wiretap clearance to intercept the cell phone of John Skidders Jr., who is a member of Akwesasne, according to the court document.

The DEA intercepted a text conversation between Skidders and another Akwesasne member named Seth Lazore on February 3, allegedly discussing the packaging of 650 bags of marijuana.

“What time are we leaving?” Said an alleged text message from Lazore.

“As soon as everything is sealed,” Skidders reportedly replied, according to the affidavit.

An alleged SMS exchange between Akwesasne members John Skidders Jr. and Seth Lazore intercepted by the Drug Enforcement Administration. (CBC News)

The DEA then set up surveillance of a warehouse on Cook Road, which is on the US side of Akwesasne. It runs along the Canadian side of the reserve in a section called Snye, which lies between the St. Lawrence River and the US border.

“This location is believed to be used by the Skidders to load marijuana for transportation and to organize marijuana shipments,” the court document says.

Watch the boats

The DEA surveillance team then observed a Ford F-350 with New York license plates.

The truck was pulling a “hydro-yacht type boat” on a trailer. Surveillance also spotted another truck, a black GMC pickup, pulling a “camouflaged colorful hydro-yacht,” which was then watched by a second surveillance team heading to a nearby marina in Hogansburg, New York.

The camouflage boat was then observed crossing the St. Lawrence towards Canada. Just under an hour later, the surveillance team spotted him on a trailer towed by the same black GMC truck returning to the warehouse, the court document said.

“Drug traffickers routinely use ships to smuggle narcotics between Canada and the United States,” the affidavit states.

The next morning, the surveillance team observed four vehicles – including the Ford F-350 and a 2021 Yukon Denali spotted at the warehouse – in a plaza on Route 37, which crosses the U.S. side of Akwesasne.

The Denali towed a trailer with two ATVs, and the F-350 towed a trailer with a Corvette with a California license plate. A third vehicle, a Dodge 3500 pickup truck, carried a trailer with an “old fashioned pickup truck”. The fourth vehicle, a Chevrolet Silverado 1500, did not have a trailer but had a Florida license plate, according to the court document.

The DEA then began monitoring the movement of the four-vehicle convoy as it made its way to Lake Placid. Officers noted that the vehicles “made the same turns and maintained a steady speed”.

New York State Police soldiers then entered, stopping the vehicles one by one, several miles away.

Lazore was reportedly found sitting in the passenger seat of the Denali, with an anonymous driver and two minors. Stevedores were reportedly arrested at the wheel of the F-350 pulling the Corvette. There were two minors in the truck with him, the court document says.

The DEA said it found 270 kilograms of marijuana hidden in the floors of the three trailers.

Skidders and Lazore are each charged with one count of conspiracy to possess and distribute marijuana.

Lawyers for the two did not respond to a request for comment.

Assistant U.S. attorney Troy Anderson did not respond to a request for comment.

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