Nascar driver Derek White was among almost 60 people targeted by Quebec and Ontario police in the biggest tobacco-smuggling bust in North American history, according to law enforcement officials.
Authorities said some of the suspects arrested early Wednesday have links to biker gangs and organized crime, buying tobacco in the U.S. and illegally importing it into Canada through three border crossings. The tobacco was ultimately sold on the Kahnawake and Six Nations reserves, according to police.
White, 45, a member of the Mohawk tribe who lives in Kahnawake near Montreal, became the first Native American to start a Sprint Cup race last year, according to NBC Sports. Ingrid Asselin, a spokeswoman for Surete du Quebec, the provincial police force, declined to confirm that the Derek White they arrested is the Nascar driver. Law enforcement officials, who requested anonymity because of restrictions about commenting beyond the scope of the warrants, said it was the same man. White is listed as one of the top ranking members of the smuggling operation, according to a chart provided by police.
Dwayne Zacharie, Kahnawake’s chief peacekeeper, said investigators from Quebec contacted his police force early Wednesday and said they had arrest warrants for three members of the tribe, including Nascar driver Derek White. Zacharie said his office informed the three suspects of the warrants and told them to contact Quebec police.
It was unclear if White was among those taken into custody on Wednesday. An attorney for White didn’t return a phone call requesting comment.
Lieutenant Jason Allard, spokesman for the Quebec provincial police, said the tobacco operation was tightly organized. It bought shipments of tobacco leaf in North Carolina, trucking them north and reselling them in Canada. Profits from tobacco were used to purchase cocaine, and some of the money was laundered abroad, in Europe, he said. The tobacco shipments were not declared at the border and disclosed to government officials, thereby avoiding taxes and allowing the cigarettes to be manufactured and sold for less money. Baggies of 200 cigarettes can be purchased for $5 at Native smoke shops on the U.S. side of the border.
The arrests took place in 70 raids at residences and shops in Montreal and surrounding areas, as well as in Ontario, police said. Almost 700 Canadian and U.S. police were involved in the bust, according to a statement from Frederick Gaudreau, an investigator at the Surete du Quebec. Zacharie said no searches or arrests took place on Kahnawake territory in connection with the investigation.
Police seized more than 52,800 kilograms of tobacco, 836 kilos of cocaine, 21 kilos of methamphetamine, 100 grams of fentanyl and 35 pounds of marijuana, police said.
The smuggling operation deprived the Quebec and Canadian governments of more than C$530 million ($409 million) in taxes, police said.