Cash, coke, gun seized in organized crime sting

Deana Stokes Sullivan
Published on April 18, 2014
Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Staff-Sgt. Joe Gullage (left) and RCMP Supt. William Malone speak to reporters about Operation Battalion, a combined forces special enforcement unit wiretap investigation that has led to eight people being charged with 37 offences related to drugs and criminal activity. — Photo by Deana Stokes Sullivan/The Telegram

Police have arrested several people in the St. John’s area and seized cocaine, a loaded handgun, cash and other items they say are connected to organized crime.

The arrests were made as part of Operation Battalion, a joint forces wiretap investigation involving the RCMP and Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit targeting high-level cocaine traffickers in the St. John’s area.

Over the past six months, it expanded into Vancouver and Montreal and involved members of the combined forces unit in Vancouver and the RCMP Montreal drug section.

At a news conference at RCMP headquarters in St. John’s, RCMP Supt. William Malone and RNC Staff-Sgt. Joe Gullage spoke to reporters about the operation.

Malone said search warrants were executed on March 14 at St. John’s International Airport, at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport in Montreal and at homes and vehicles in the St. John’s area.

Investigators seized $350,000 in cash, cocaine, a loaded nine-mm prohibited handgun, ammunition, brass knuckles, a stun gun and a 2012 Toyota Tundra truck.

Kurt Churchill of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s and Leroy Thomas of St. John’s have been charged with conspiracy to traffic in cocaine and three firearm-related offences. Churchill was also charged with three counts of uttering threats, one count of intimidating a police officer and two additional firearm charges.

Malone said on April 15, the police arrested five other people from the St. John’s area who allegedly planned and staged a fake motor vehicle accident.

Darrell Tucker, Michelle Pike, John Hutchings, Glen Hussey and David Rypkema have been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, fraud and public mischief.

Gullage said people were taken to hospital from the staged accident scene, but investigators believe they were all part of the conspiracy and that there were no innocent victims.

Police say the accident was staged on Feb. 12 at 11:48 p.m. in the area of Groves Road and Gilles Place.

An arrest warrant was issued for of a sixth person in connection to that matter. Patrick Dooley was arrested Thursday.

Tucker has also been charged separately with extortion and impersonation. Gullage said it’s alleged he made calls impersonating someone else.

“From our perspective, he was controlling activities here,” he said.

The investigation is continuing in St. John’s, Vancouver and Montreal. To date, the eight people have been charged with 37 offences.

Malone said all eight suspects know each other. Seven have been released from custody with pending court appearances.

There have been no arrests outside Newfoundland, but police say further drug, weapon, possession of proceeds of crime and money-laundering charges are expected.