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Canada: BC Detective Testifies On Vietnamese Grow-Op Gangs

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It was called Operation Hunger - a police task force that busted a large and sophisticated marijuana grow operation harboured in suburban homes around metro.

The grow op involved the purchase of houses that were then modified to cultivate marijuana. Electricity was pilfered to support the production. In 2004, police arrested a number people of Vietnamese origin, charging them with various crimes related to marijuana production.

One of those is Tuan Anh Nguyen. Yesterday, he faced sentencing in Halifax provincial court.

Called to the stand yesterday was a Vancouver Police Department officer who specializes in Vietnamese organized crime groups in Canada. Det. Const. Jim Fisher testified that Vietnamese organizations are the largest producers of marijuana in the country. Much of their produce is then smuggled over the border into the United States.

Fisher was not asked to comment on the drug operation in HRM. In September, Nguyen was convicted of producing marijuana, possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking and stealing electricity. He was linked to the purchase of two houses and was found to be an active participant in the grow operation. A raid of one of the homes netted 548 marijuana plants with a street value of around $578,000.

There were initial discussions in court yesterday over the relevancy of Fisher's testimony, since Nguyen had not been charged with belonging to a criminal organization.

In the end, however, Fisher was allowed to give evidence. He described patterns in Vietnamese grow operations that are dotted across the country. Such operations are primarily organized through family ties, Fisher told the court.

Operations are matters of trust: it's how debts are repaid and secrets kept. That trust, Fisher said, can also be based on fear. Operations are treated as businesses: records are typically kept "rather meticulously." There is a "tremendous profit" in these grow operations and expansion across the country has become inevitable, the police officer said.

Fisher also described the inner workings of the grow operations. In many cases, "crop sitters" are paid a salary to tend to the plants. Others deal with readying marijuana for smuggling, packaging it in an attempt to hide the drug from police. In some operations, there are even people employed as security to protect the crop.

While there is no central hierarchy that governs Vietnamese organized crime, groups do have business relationships with other criminal organizations.

A form of barter system is developing. In return for the pot, Fisher said, criminal organizations in the U.S. are sending other things to Canada - illegal weapons, for example.

Some of the challenges for police, Fisher said, are cultural and language issues. He said there are also problems of personation, where those involved change names, or claim they are someone different.

The sentencing hearing continues Tuesday.

Source: Daily News, The (CN NS)
Copyright: 2007 The Daily News
Contact: letterstoeditor@hfxnews.ca
Website: Halifax, The Daily News: Proudly Serving the Greater Halifax Communities
 
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