COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two male Canadian nationals are in custody facing federal drug charges Thursday after an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Customs and Border Protection revealed the pair allegedly attempted to transport nearly 300 pounds of suspected cocaine in a Canada-bound Piper Navajo twin-engine aircraft.
Sylvain Desjardins, 57, and David Ayotte, 46, both from the Quebec area, had initial appearances in federal court in Columbus on charges of possession with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine.
The ongoing probe was launched Wednesday afternoon after U.S. Customs and Border Protection contacted the Athens County Sherriff’s Department along with the Ohio University Police Department to assist with an aircraft about to land illegally in the United States. While in flight, the Canada-bound aircraft diverted its flight path and landed unauthorized at KUNI Ohio University Airport. The Athens County Sheriff’s Department along with the Ohio University Police Department assisted with the aircraft and two occupants while a CBP Great Lakes King Air aircraft working a nearby operation diverted its mission into KUNI.
While CBP Air Interdiction agents and HSI special agents interviewed the crew for unauthorized landing in the United States, a canine alerted to the aircraft which resulted in the discovery of nearly 300 pounds of a powdery substance which has field tested positive as cocaine.
HSI advises the investigation into the drug smuggling scheme is ongoing. The agency is working the case jointly with CBP, Ohio University Police Department and the Athens County Sheriff’s Office. Canadian authorities have been contacted and are assisting in the probe through the HSI Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) Detroit, which is made up of officers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Windsor Police Service, among others.
Charges are merely allegations and defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.