For the second time in as many years, local police have seized a helicopter believed to have been involved in drug smuggling.
The Bell 206 was confiscated from a property in Spallumcheen in May by members of the Nelson RCMP border integrity program, although it was only announced this week.
The search warrant stemmed from an investigation into a helicopter seen flying around Lumby for about two years, police said in a news release.
It’s believed the chopper was being used to smuggle cocaine from the US to Canada.
The 33-year-old owner of the helicopter was arrested but later released without charges.
“In this case we didn’t so much recommend charges as discuss the case with Crown counsel, and Crown said there’s not enough evidence for a successful prosecution,” says Nelson Cpl. Chad Badry.
However, the helicopter is being held under the Civil Forfeiture Act, and police hope it forces smugglers to think twice about using that method again.
Under the civil forfeiture process, property can be auctioned off even if charges are not laid, as the burden of proof is a balance of probabilities, not beyond a reasonable doubt as in criminal court.
“If they’re 51 per cent positive it was involved in criminal activity, it can be forfeited to the Crown,” Badry says.
He adds the helicopter was purchased for $425,000, and the fact such an expensive vehicle would be used “underscores the value of the drugs they’re moving across the border.”
Although local officers were directly involved in the investigation, Badry says there’s no direct connection to this area or evidence the chopper was flown over local skies.
“It was over towards Revelstoke, Invermere, went over to the Okanagan, and moved around a bit to the last location where it was seized,” he says.
Still, he has “no doubt” the helicopter would have been in West Kootenay at some point, as “the terrain is conducive to low flying helicopter smuggling.”
In January 2010, police seized a Bell 206B Jet Ranger helicopter from a property south of Silverton, also believed to have been involved in drug smuggling. Charges were not laid in that case either, but the chopper was forfeited to the Crown.
Badry says the cases are unusual in BC: “I don’t think there have been any other helicopter seizures related to drug smuggling. It’s pretty unique.”