Project Butane: charges laid against the leaders and truckers of a criminal contraband tobacco network for fraud estimated at more than $450 million

News release

September 29, 2020           Montréal, Quebec       Canada Border Services Agency 

Today, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) announced that charges were laid against 13 individuals at the Longueuil courthouse following a major contraband tobacco investigation called Project Butane. The alleged leaders of the network, Martin Bessette and Éric Landry, are among the accused.

The following people are facing charges of fraud upon the governments of Canada and Quebec, contraband tobacco, possession of unstamped tobacco products, and conspiracy to move contraband tobacco and to possess unstamped tobacco products: Martin Bessette, Éric Landry, Alfred Binette, Serge Bourque, Étienne Demers, Kedryc Girouard-Fournier, Pierre Leblanc, Michel Savoie, Michel Frédéric Riendeau, Mathieu Dinnigan-Lanthier, Reynald Jacques, Christos Georgaros and Curtis Lewis Thompson.

According to the CBSA investigation, which began in 2018, the accused are part of a criminal organization that imported contraband tobacco in bulk. The evidence collected during the investigation established that the organization had 88 loads of bulk tobacco brought in between September 2, 2017, and May 27, 2019. The fraud strategies of this organization allegedly led to an estimated $450 million in lost tobacco duties and taxes.

As part of this investigation, two loads of around 18,000 kg of bulk tobacco each, were intercepted on May 10, 2018, and May 27, 2019, at the St-Bernard-de-Lacolle and Herdman, in Montérégie, border crossings, respectively. In the first seizure, the bulk tobacco had been declared as a load of fruit, and in the second, it was concealed under a load of wood chips.

Additionally, on June 5, 2019, more than 100 CBSA officers, supported by the Sûreté du Québec and some municipal police forces, executed 26 search warrants in Montérégie and Centre-du-Québec, and made eight arrests, collecting several pieces of evidence that allowed for these charges to be filed.

The CBSA and its officers are very attentive to contraband tobacco, in particular with regard to large-scale contraband strategies in commercial vehicles. This type of activity harms Canada’s economy by encouraging the black market. All offenders are subject to sanctions and legal proceedings.

Quick facts

  • 13 people accused of a total of 15 charges

  • 36,000 kg of tobacco seized during the investigation

  • 3 tractor-trailer combinations and one SUV vehicle 

  • seized as offence-related property

  • 38 cell phones and 12 computers seized

Contacts

Dominique McNeely

Canada Border Services Agency

Phone: 514-283-8700, ext. 8280

Email: questions@cbsa-asfc.gc.ca

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