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Drug-trafficking operation included several 'trap houses' in Barrie area

Dubbed Project Garfield, police investigation linked drug sales to Toronto-area street gangs and people working in 'shifts' using shared cellphone; Multiple associated overdoses occurred in Barrie

The Orillia Police Services Board learned some disturbing details Tuesday about a large drug operation that resulted in several charges being laid in May.

OPP Det.-Sgt. Greg Beamer made a presentation during the virtual board meeting and discussed Project Garfield.

The joint forces investigation began in December 2020, when police received information about a group of people from the Greater Toronto Area who were travelling to Simcoe County to traffic cocaine and fentanyl.

Beamer said the suspects were linked to numerous fatal and non-fatal overdoses in Simcoe County, including several in the Barrie area.

Once they were identified, it was determined most were connected to Toronto-area street gangs, mostly the Crips in that city’s west end. Police learned they were working in “shifts” and using a shared cellphone.

“They were treating this drug trafficking as a business,” Beamer said, adding that allowed police to charge them with participating in a criminal organization.

Prior to charges being laid, police began an undercover operation and purchased drugs from the suspects in an effort to identify more of them and determine the scope of their operation.

That led to the identification of more locations where they were operating, including Barrie, Orillia, Coldwater, York, Durham, Oshawa and Toronto, as well as the OPP's Nottawasaga and Huronia West detachment areas. Police services and OPP detachments in those areas assisted with the investigation.

“These accused persons did not live here. They literally came to our communities to exploit the vulnerable people in the community and take advantage of the drug-trafficking networks that were here,” Beamer said.

Police determined the suspects schedules, including where they would be and when they would be there.

Officers purchased cocaine and fentanyl from the suspects in amounts that “hadn’t been seen before” in undercover investigations, he said.

The OPP partnered with Toronto Police Service and Barrie Police Service, as most of the 'trap houses' were in the Barrie area.

“It was a very labour-intensive investigation. It took a lot of resources,” Beamer said.

When the undercover work was done, eight search warrants were executed with the help of tactical units. Fourteen people were charged with a total of 149 offences, including trafficking cocaine and fentanyl and possession of property obtained by crime.

Police seized 734 grams of cocaine, 53 grams of crack cocaine, 30 hydromorphone pills and 15 oxycodone pills. They also seized 427 grams of fentanyl, or 4,270 “deadly hits,” as Beamer explained.

The warrants also led to the seizure of about $109,000 in Canadian currency, four handguns, five vehicles, drug-trafficking paraphernalia, and cellphones.

“It was one of the more successful CSU (Community Safety Unit) major projects that has been taken on in Central Region and it had a direct effect on overdoses in all of those communities,” Beamer said.

Mayor Steve Clarke, chair of the Orillia Police Services Board, thanked Beamer and his team for taking “a disgusting amount of poison” off the street.

“To know that our crime unit was involved in this operation is fantastic,” he said.