29 busted in marijuana ring tied to reservations


SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Twenty-nine people have been indicted on marijuana trafficking and conspiracy charges involving two related distribution rings with ties to Indian reservations on both sides of the U.S. Canadian border, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Syracuse announced on Dec. 10.

The traffickers smuggled Canadian-grown high potency marijuana across the New York/Canadian border through Akwesasne, the St. Regis Mohawk Indian Reservation that straddles both sides of the St. Lawrence River, then transported it to the Onondaga Indian Reservation for distribution to the Salamanca Indian Reservation near Buffalo and beyond, Andrew T. Baxter, acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District, said in a media release.

The indictments followed an 11-month, multi-agency investigation that identified two drug trafficking operations responsible for distributing marijuana worth millions of dollars throughout Syracuse, Onondaga county, Buffalo, Long Island and as far away as Philadelphia, Baxter said.

Investigators executed 14 state and federal search warrants, conducted traffic stops of suspected drug and money couriers, and extensive physical and electronic surveillance. The probe yielded 100 pounds of marijuana, more than $350,000 in cash, 10 vehicles and five firearms.

“We focused on addressing the growing threat of smuggling Canadian grown marijuana into the United States through upstate New York, particularly across the Akwesasne. High potency marijuana produced in Canada and then smuggled into the United States has increased largely because it is so profitable. Violence and other serious criminal activity are closely associated with the illegal importation of marijuana because of the large amounts of money at stake,” Baxter said.

Most of those indicted had been arrested or had surrendered by the time the U.S. Attorney’s Office issued the media release. Fourteen of them are under the age of 30.

Most of the defendants are charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute. If convicted, they face sentences of five to 40 years in prison and up to $2 million in fines.

Four of the defendants are charged with using a “communication facility, namely, a telephone” to cause and facilitate the commission of a felony. If convicted, they face up to four years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

Baxter could not be reached for more information by press time

According to www.syracuse.com, the chiefs of the Onondaga Nation cooperated in the investigation and helped in arranging the surrenders of some suspects. The chiefs could not be contacted for confirmation by press time.