KINGSVILLE — Three Leamington men, part of what police are calling an “organized group,” have been charged with the cultivation of illegal cannabis for the purpose of trafficking.
Ollie Mastronardi, 69, Mark Mastronardi, 43, and Joseph Spano, 45, are also charged with growing cannabis without authorization.
The charges against the three local men stem for a joint-forces raid at a County Road 34 greenhouse in late June which seized more than $62 million in illegal cannabis, according to police. The seizure was so large it took OPP officers four days to pull and remove 45,000 plants as well as eight tonnes of processed, ready-to-sell cannabis.
The charges against the three local men are part of a broader investigation called Project Gateway and headed by the Niagara Regional Police Service. The probe included numerous police forces and law enforcement agencies, including the RCMP, the FBI, various units of the OPP, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Canadian Border Security Agency and the Windsor, Toronto, Chatham and Hamilton police forces.
In total, 20 men ranging in age from 24 to 81 have been charged in what Niagara Regional Police called an “organized group … engaged in a number of alleged criminal enterprises.”
Niagara police allege the group was involved in smuggling cocaine from Mexico to Canada via Los Angeles through various ports of entry including the use of a boat to transport cocaine across the St. Clair River.
Police also allege the group operated cocaine extraction labs in rural areas of Southwestern Ontario, smuggled people across the Niagara River into New York State, tobacco smuggling, shipping stolen vehicles overseas and employing illegal foreign workers to work in cannabis production sites.
Police said the illegal cannabis was grown on “a massive scale” and shipped to the United States in transport trucks.
Aside from the cannabis seized on County Road 34, seizures elsewhere in Ontario and the United States include a shipment of 339 pounds of cannabis bound for Europe, 33,000 pounds of undeclared tobacco and 80 kg of cocaine valued at $3.2 million.