APTN National News has been investigating threads emerging from a 2008 police investigation by the name of Operation Cancun. Cancun targeted a drug smuggling network operating through the Mohawk territories of Kahnawake and Akwesasne. Many of these threads led from a man identified by the RCMP as “the banker” who entered the orbit of some high profile Conservatives. Now, a U.S. investigation alleges two individuals associated with “the banker” laundered money for a Montreal organization involved in the importation of cocaine into Canada.
(Michael Chamas speaks at a Conservative fundraiser in 2008. APTN/File Photo)
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
At an airport northeast of Boston, on a Wednesday in October, a private jet waited for the arrival of two Montreal men carrying a pair of suitcases stuffed with $1.7 million US in cash.
The jet was used on private charter flights between the Boston area, New York City and Las Vegas by two Montreal men, Nicolas Anthis and Nicholas Sotiriou, who were allegedly involved in the purchase of millions of dollars worth of cocaine for importation into Canada, according to U.S. court documents.
Anthis and Sotiriou were two of six Canadian men recently indicted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering drug money for a Montreal-based organization that financed cocaine purchases for importation into Canada with proceeds from the sale of Quebec-grown marijuana to a Massachusetts-based criminal network.
None of the allegations contained in U.S. Federal Court documents have been proven in court.
Anthis is currently in U.S. custody and Sotiriou is wanted on an arrest warrant.
Both Anthis and Sotiriou appeared on RCMP radar screens during 2008’s Operation Cancun, which targeted a marijuana smuggling ring that used the Mohawk territories of Kahnawake and Akwesasne to smuggle the contraband into the U.S.
They were both associated with a Lebanese-Canadian businessman named Michael Chamas who the RCMP alleged was “the banker” for the marijuana smuggling ring.
Chamas is wanted in Canada after he fled the country to avoid facing trial on charges of possessing unregistered weapons stemming from an Operation Cancun raid on his home on March 26, 2008. Chamas says he is currently in Dubai.
Now, APTN National News has learned that U.S. agents came across Chamas’ name during their investigation of the Massachusetts network that led to the money laundering indictment of Anthis and Sotiriou.
MEETING WITH AN ALLEGED KING PIN
Chamas told APTN National News in an interview that he twice met Safwan Madarati, the alleged king pin of the Massachusetts network, according to U.S. court documents.
Chamas said Madarati would often come to Montreal to visit a girlfriend. Chamas said he met Madarati through another individual who was also arrested and charged during Cancun.
APTN National News could not reach the person and decided to not publish the name.
Chamas said he wanted to flee Canada and Madarati offered to help him get a Green Card in the U.S. Chamas said he gave Madarati two passport photographs and $2,000. He said he never heard back.
“(Madarati) claimed he needed a deposit for an attorney, he took my pictures and social security number,” said Chamas. “He said he would arrange to get my Green Card…He said, ‘I have friends in the police.'”
A Watertown, Mass., police officer named Roberto Velasquez-Johnson, aka George Diamond, was allegedly working for Madarati and feeding him information about police investigations, according to U.S. court documents.
A TANGLED WEB
One of the threads of evidence used by U.S. authorities in weaving their case against Anthis and Sotiriou came from that Wednesday on Oct. 27, 2010, when Massachusetts State Police agents followed Garabet Jartidian, one of the six Canadians indicted, and a second man, who has not been charged, to the Hanscom Airport in Bedford, Mass. Jartidian is now considered a fugitive by U.S. authorities.
The agents stopped the two men before they could reach the private jet and seized the cash. Jartidian said the money was for Anthis and a Montreal lawyer named Ilias Kaperonis, according to court documents. Jartidian said Anthis and Kaperonis were part of a company called Ghanadian Trading.
Kaperonis has also been indicted and is wanted by U.S. authorities.
When the agents checked the jet’s flight manifest they found the names of Anthis and Sotiriou. A third name was also found but that individual has not been charged.
“The investigation further revealed that this money was the proceeds of marijuana trafficking in the Northeast that was being transferred to California for the purchase (of) cocaine for the organization in Montreal,” according to one court document
Three years earlier, On Dec. 6, 2007, Anthis, Sotiriou, Chamas, and Chamas’ former assistant Juanita Cree, sat in the sixth floor offices of the Montreal police’s fraud unit in a meeting with one RCMP officer and two Montreal police detectives.
The quartet claimed that Chamas had been defrauded out of $3 million by a Toronto man in a botched $750 million deal to buy an island in Mexico, according to an RCMP account of the meeting.
RCMP surveillance also showed numerous meetings between Chamas and Anthis during the course of the Cancun investigation. Anthis had his cell phone tapped and at one point an investigator visited his Montreal home.
During one instance, on March 3, 2008, officers watched Anthis hug Chamas goodbye at Montreal’s Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport.
BEVERLY HILLS COPS’ INFORMANT
Two years later on October 22, 2010, five days before Massachusetts State Police agents intercepted the men with cash-stuffed suitcases heading for the private jet, Drug Enforcement Administration investigators and Beverly Hills police detectives set up surveillance on a hotel in California
A Beverly Hills police controlled informant supplied information that a money courier for a drug organization in Canada was about to receive an installment of cash in Ontario, Calif.
The agents saw Anthis outside the Ayres Inn & Suites at about 12:55 p.m. standing near a grey Mazda sedan. Then the agents watched as a Hispanic man named Felipe drove up beside the Mazda in a grey Ford sedan. Anthis opened the trunk of the Mazda, pulled out a “weighted” black duffle bag and gave it to Felipe who put it in the trunk of his Ford. Anthis then took a light green duffle bag from the Ford’s trunk and walked into the hotel.
Anthis and Felipe barely spoke during the transaction, according to a court document.
After waiting for about an hour, Anthis again emerged from the hotel talking on a cellular phone. He was then approached by local uniformed Ontario police officers who detained Anthis. The officers found $497,955US cash inside the light green bag and a police dog detected traces of narcotics on the bills.
“The bag was filled with a large amount of U.S. currency in a manner consistent with the bulk smuggling of narcotics proceeds,” authorities state in a court document. “Some of the cash was vacuum sealed in plastic bags and some of the stacks…were wrapped in rubber bands.”
Anthis claimed that the money was for the purchase of gold and that he was vice president of company Ghanadian Trading and that Kaperonis was its president. Anthis claimed he gave Felipe, who he referred to as “Sam,” $20,000 and paperwork related to Ghanadian Trading, according to court documents.
Chamas said he was surprised to hear that Anthis had been implicated in laundering drug money. He said Anthis never spoke about drugs when they were together.
“Is this guy Nick Anthis capable of this? Absolutely not,” said Chamas. “I could understand if it was money he was moving around selling gold…I’m shocked.”
FRIENDS NO MORE
Chamas said the latest developments in the U.S. have blindsided him. He said he had no idea any of the people around him were involved in any illegal activity and he strenuously maintains he has never had any involvement in the drug trade.
“I have seen a lot of things happening in Canada. Everyone one around me were thieves and liars,” said Chamas. “I have no friends.”
There was a time when Chamas could boast of having high-placed contacts within the Conservative Party in Canada. Among them was current Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador John Crosbie and fundraiser David Bernstein, a former Tory candidate in the late 1970s and 1980, who died from cancer last year.
Crosbie and Bernstein, along with former Tory MP John Reynolds, who co-chaired the Conservative’s 2006 election and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2004 leadership campaign, were involved in the early stages of a failed plan to purchase the Quebec-based Laurentian bank with financing provided by Chamas.
Crosbie also represented Chamas in the businessman’s battles with Revenue Canada and once wrote a letter to former Conservative immigration minister Monte Solberg advocating for Chamas’ wife who was about to be deported from Canada. Chamas’ wife remained in Canada for an additional two years.
Chamas was a guest speaker during a 2008 fundraiser for the Conservative candidate in the Papineau riding which also featured former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier. Chamas donated $5,000 to the riding and the federal NDP has since asked Elections Canada to investigate the contribution.