SURREY, B.C. -- Steve Atilla Czinege, a 40-year-old Surrey, B.C. trucker, had already been involved in a failed attempt at smuggling hundreds of pounds of pot into the U.S. -- resulting in the seizure of the truck and loss of the drugs -- when he was threatened with bodily harm by the same people about doing another job: Smuggling coke back into Canada.
Once again, Czinege's luck ran out at the border -- he'll know in May whether he'll get the maximum 10 years in a Washington prison.
According to the RCMP in B.C., there has been a rise in organized crime groups offering truckers big money -- between $10,000 and $40,000 depending on the cargo and the crossing -- to smuggle contraband between the United States and Canada. Typically Canadian marijuana is sent south, in exchange for cocaine and firearms heading north. Truckers fashion false compartments in their trucks and trailers, and try their luck.
But messing around with organized crime can be more hazardous than getting caught by the police.
"Someone might come up to you and suggest you try carrying something across as a one-time thing, but you do it once for these guys, and they're going to come again," says Cpl. Norm Massie of the RCMP's "E" Division Border Integrity unit in British Columbia. "If they have any leverage over you, they'll use it. If you have a family you should be concerned."
In response, the RCMP has set up a "1-800" hotline for drivers to report such incidents. Available in both English and Punjabi, Massie says the hotline is "our way of allowing the trucking industry to give us information that they're aware of to enable us to investigate the offenders."
As TodaysTrucking.com reported recently, the hotline has been well used since it went live in mid-January. "Way more than expected," says Massie. "Our border integrity people have been extremely busy acting on information received."
And here's another message the police want to get out there: Those secret compartments? "They're not that secret. We know where they are, we know where to look -- you're not fooling anyone," Massie says.
The RCMP's smuggling tips line is 1-888-598-4602.