An international furore has erupted after a member of the Organized Crime
Agency of B.C. tried to conduct a drug investigation south of the border
without U.S. authorization.

A red-faced OCA director, Dave Douglas, was forced to apologize personally
to the U.S. consul-general in Vancouver. He vowed that the ``administrative
error'' that led to the uproar would never happen again.

Douglas admitted the blunder to The Province only after three days of OCA
denials and obfuscation.

A letter was also sent to the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa explaining that OCA
has launched an internal investigation.

Douglas said U.S. authorities were briefed about the OCA operation before
the B.C. officer headed south. When he stepped on the plane two weeks ago,
the officer believed he had the proper ``country clearance'' to conduct an
operation on U.S. soil, said Douglas.

But in fact a phone call, used in ``emergent situations'' to obtain the
clearance, had not been made and when the officer arrived at his
destination, he was pulled into a ``briefing session'' with the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Agency.

Several hours later, the clearance was finally obtained.

U.S. government sources said the OCA member was detained and the DEA even
considered the possibility of criminal charges.

``This went all the way up to the top,'' the source said. ``The DEA fired
off a protest to our embassy in Ottawa.''

The OCA director was reluctant to discuss any other specifics, such as the
exact nature of the operation and the U.S. destination, citing security
concerns.

Sources told The Province that between 22 and 32 kilograms of marijuana was
involved in the sting operation. It's believed that Denver may have been
the ultimate destination of the operation.

``Somebody basically dropped the ball on this,'' Douglas said yesterday.
``We've gone back to look at these procedures so it won't happen again.''

He added: ``It's embarrassing from my perspective that this happened. We've
done some excellent work down south.''

As late as Monday, agency spokesman Sgt. Randy Elliott flatly denied that
there was any incident involving OCA officers in the U.S. Douglas contacted
The Province yesterday after a reporter called Attorney-General Graeme
Bowbrick's office.

The apology from Douglas was delivered to Hugo Llorenz, U.S. consul-general
in Vancouver, who couldn't be reached yesterday. An official with the U.S.
Embassy in Ottawa declined to comment pending the outcome of OCA's internal
investigation.

A DEA spokesman in Denver said he knew about the incident but added his
agency was not involved. He referred inquiries to Canadian authorities.

Normal OCA procedure for investigations in the U.S. is to go through
Canadian attaches of either the FBI or the DEA in Ottawa.

The attaches go to the U.S. state department to get the final OK and a
document approving the operation is sent back.

CRIME AGENTS STILL NEW KIDS ON BLOCK

The Organized Crime Agency of B.C. is a new kid on the block with the
daunting task of busting heavily armed and well-heeled drug gangsters.

OCA was formed in 1999 to try to sink B.C.'s drug-dealing gangs which are
doing business worth billions of dollars.

It replaced the Co-ordinated Law Enforcement Agency, which had been
infiltrated by organized-crime members.

In its first year of operation, OCA charged 170 people with 650 offences,
including possession of weapons, drug trafficking, counterfeiting credit
cards and cultivating marijuana.

The agency has frozen bank accounts totalling $10 million in its effort to
seize the proceeds of crime, and has helped the federal government recover
$1.5 million in unpaid taxes.

At its headquarters on Annacis Island, OCA has a staff of 70 -- including
clerical workers, six permanent, sworn officers and a force mainly seconded
from local police and RCMP. It has an annual budget of $15 million to
battle the drug trade.

Some critics say OCA duplicates the work already done by the RCMP's drug
force and Vancouver City police.


Newshawk: creator@mapinc.org
Pubdate: Thu, 15 Feb 2001
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2001 The Province
Contact: provedpg@pacpress.southam.ca
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