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Charges pending in massive $30m drug seizure in Victoria and Vancouver


Police searched properties in Victoria and Metro Vancouver and found illicit drugs, including fentanyl, with a street value of $30 million.

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Three men linked to an organized crime group are facing 22 firearms and trafficking charges after one of the largest fentanyl seizures in B.C. history.

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Byran Balla, a former Calgary gangster, Vu Bao Nguyen of Surrey, and Brent William Van Buskirk, a convicted killer on parole when he was arrested, have all been charged after a joint Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit-Victoria police investigation.

In December 2020, police announced that they had seized $30 million worth of fentanyl and other drugs, as well as firearms, in nine searches done in Victoria and on the Lower Mainland as part of what they called Project Juliet.

CFSEU Sgt. Brenda Winpenny announced Thursday that charges in the case were approved this week by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

Balla was arrested Tuesday, Nguyen was picked up Thursday and Van Buskirk had already been arrested for breaching the conditions of his parole in a 2004 murder, Winpenny said.

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Winpenny said that during the 2020 investigation, “nine search warrants were executed, six on residences in four jurisdictions and three on luxury vehicles.”

Police seized 20 firearms, some modified to make them fully automatic, almost $400,000 in cash and large quantities of fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy, Winpenny said.

Balla, 34, is facing eight drug charges; Nguyen, 34, is facing 10 counts; and Van Buskirk, 35, has had 13 counts sworn against him, 10 of which are gun-related and three for drug trafficking.

CFSEU chief officer Manny Mann said his agency had made it a priority to work “with our partner agencies to target and hold accountable those involved in illegal gun crime and trafficking of dangerous drugs.”

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“This joint investigation with the Victoria police is another example of the joint forces’ work CFSEU-B.C. does around the province and of the ongoing effort and commitment that we have made to take potentially lethal drugs off our streets and take guns out of the hands of those who choose to put everyone at risk,” he said.

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak said he was proud of the work the two agencies had done on the case.

“In a year where over 2,200 people in British Columbia have died from a suspected illicit drug overdose it is clear that more joint operation work like this must be done to end the deaths,” Manak said.

Balla, formerly linked to Calgary’s FOB gang, was sentenced in 2014 to seven years on 13 charges relating to drug trafficking and possessing firearms dating to 2011. But he was acquitted in a 2018 murder conspiracy plot allegedly targeting a FOB — or Fresh Off the Boat — rival.

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Van Buskirk pleaded guilty to the 2004 Victoria murder of Ravi Nutt — a crime he committed just before his 18th birthday.

He also pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit murder — one charge involved blowing up a Surrey nightclub with C-4 plastic explosive. The conspiracy charges were dealt with in adult court because he was over 18 when they were committed. Police had a listening device inside a car and heard Van Buskirk talk about a plan to kill an unnamed victim and dismember the person, placing their remains in crab traps.

The judge who sentenced him said Van Buskirk was proud of the fact he had carried out a contract killing and had developed a fascination with “weapons, violence and killing.

Project Juliet began in mid-2020 when Victoria police “identified an organized crime group trafficking fentanyl” in the B.C. capital, Winpenny said.

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“As the investigation progressed, it was determined the crime group had ties to the Lower Mainland,” and the anti-gang agency got involved.

Civil forfeiture proceedings against the accused began in November 2020 and ended with two court orders in favour of the B.C. government last year.

During the searches, police seized more than 10 kilograms of high-concentration fentanyl, as well as a kilo of MDMA and two kilograms of meth. At the time, Health Canada verified that the fentanyl concentration ranged between 88 and 90 per cent, meaning that once processed to street-level concentrations, almost four million doses could have been produced.

kbolan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/kbolan

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