20 arrested, $70M in drugs seized after years-long international investigation: RCMP

A multi-year police investigation that originated in Manitoba has led to the arrests of 20 people, including a full-patch Hells Angels member, who RCMP say were working for an international drug and weapons trafficking operation.

It also resulted in the largest drug seizure in Manitoba RCMP history

The investigation, dubbed Project Divergent, was launched in 2018 after a Manitoba RCMP criminal analyst flagged some trends regarding the importation of drugs into Canada, police said at a news conference in Winnipeg Tuesday morning. 

Insp. Grant Stephen, who leads the RCMP’s serious and organized crime section, said the police force soon realized it was on to a complex operation that involved large volumes of Mexican cartel drugs coming from either Mexico itself or Colombia that were being smuggled into Manitoba, then distrubuted across the country. 

“That was the nexus of our investigation,” he said. 

Several police agencies from across Canada and around the world became involved in the investigation, including Colombian national police, Hellenic Police in Greece and the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations out of Grand Forks, N.D.

Five different criminal organizations were involved in the trafficking operation, including the Hells Angels biker gang, Stephen said at the news conference.

Of the 20 people arrested, 17 were from Manitoba, including Damion Ryan, who police say is a full patch Hells Angels member with the Attica chapter in Greece but who lives in Ontario. 

Stephen described Ryan as “likely one of most prolific organized crime members in our country.”

Ryan was the only Hells Angels member arrested, he said. Police seized a range of Hells Angels paraphernalia belonging to Ryan when they arrested him. They also believe he was a member of the Wolfpack organized crime group, Stephen said.

Largest seizure 

Along with the 20 arrests, police say they also seized more than $70 million worth of illicit drugs, including 110 kilograms of cocaine (with an estimated street value of $11 million), 41.4 kilograms of methamphetamine (estimated street value of $8 million) and three kilograms of fentanyl (estimated street value of $50 million). 

“I provide you with this context not to wow you with the seizure, but to show you how many people could have been affected with this amount of illicit product,” Stephen said. 

Over the course of the investigation, officers overheard members of the drug networks discuss how people were dying from overdoses and how to get their product into the hands of vulnerable people, Stephen said.

“These individuals know how dangerous the drugs they are selling are,” he said. 

“There is nothing harmless about what was going on within these networks. Their reach was far and the results were devastating.”

Some of the handguns seized by police as part of the investigation. (Submitted by Manitoba RCMP)

Police also recovered 14 handguns and what they described as five assault-style weapons.

Two individuals are still at large and are wanted by police in connection with the investigation:

  • Kieffer Michael Kramar, 30, is from Winnipeg, but police believe he could be anywhere in Canada.
  • Denis Ivziku, 24, is from the lower mainland of British Columbia. Police believe he is still in that area.

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