1,402 charges, 241 suspects: Newly appointed ALERT CEO reflects on major busts of 2019

Edmonton police officer Dwayne Lakusta is the new CEO of Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT), a provincially funded agency that investigates serious and organized crime in Alberta, including child exploitation, drug trafficking and gang violence. LARRY WONG Larry Wong / POSTMEDIA NETWORK

An international fentanyl ring busted in Calgary, a cross-border drug running operation in Edmonton and a straw-man gun purchaser were all part of arrests highlighting the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team’s (ALERT) 2019.

Supt. Dwayne Lakusta was appointed to the top position within the provincial force last August. In a recent interview with Postmedia he highlighted the number of major busts and improved statistics as indicators the past year was successful one for his organization.

“From my arrival here, I’m very impressed with the level of dedication from our teams. Not just the officers, but our civilian staff who were behind the scenes in ensuring that we’re achieving successful prosecutions,” said Lakusta.

Over the past year, the provincial police team has placed 1,402 charges against 241 suspects and seized 92 firearms, along with taking $4 million worth of proceeds of crime off of Alberta streets.

Those charges were placed in operations ranging across the province, country and continent, as ALERT charged 15 suspected drug dealers in Fort McMurray, arrested bikers in Red Deer, dismantled fentanyl labs in Calgary and dismantled drug rings ranging connected to British Columbia and Texas.

ALERT CEO Chad Coles, left, and RCMP Staff Sgt. Carson Creaser answers questions related to a two-year investigation by ALERT that has cut off a drug pipeline between B.C. and Alberta. More than $2 million in drugs and cash was seized and a dozen suspects have been arrested on June 12, 2019.

Shaughn Butts / Postmedia

Project Elder

A two-year investigation concluded in June with ALERT Edmonton heading a team that laid multiple charges against 11 people in Edmonton, Calgary, Innisfail, B.C. and Vancouver. Two homes, two businesses and multiple vehicles were searched as police seized drugs worth $1.5 million on the street.

Those drugs included 9.3 kilograms of cocaine, 17.2 kilograms of cocaine buffing agent and six kilograms of methamphetamines, 684 kilograms of fentanyl powder and over half a million dollars worth of cash. Guns and firearms from hidden compartments were also taken in.

“That’s a great example of one of our successes and working with our partner agencies,” said Lakusta. “The intelligence started from one of the local detachments, we worked that information, that intelligence … and we shared the resources.”

Lakusta said Project Elder was an example of not only closing off a local crime group operating in a small community, but following that group up the distribution line to shut off more suppliers.

At the time of the arrests, one of the lead investigators characterized the group they arrested as “the head of the snake.”

Joe Brar, CPS superintendent, left, Stephanie Sachsse, Federal criminal operation officer, Dwayne Lakusta, ALERT CEO, and Insp. Shawn Wallace pose for a photo with firearms seized during the Project Coyote, a two-year ALERT Calgary investigation, which resulted in major drug, firearms, cash and assets seizures at Calgary Police Headquarters on Nov. 14, 2019.

Azin Ghaffari / Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Calgary

Project Coyote

Down the QE2 a few months later, the ALERT Calgary team made what is believed to be the largest fentanyl bust ever in Canada as they seized 250,000 pills last November.

Project Coyote mainly hit Calgary with six of seven people charged from Alberta’s largest city. However, the provincial police force partnered with the American Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Harris County Sheriff’s office in Houston Texas to arrest one more.

Thirteen firearms, $4.5 million worth of cash and assets and $15 million worth of drugs were seized alongside the fentanyl. The deadly opioid alone held a street value between $4 million and $6 million.

“They’re sharing their information, they’re sharing their intelligence, they’re sharing their commodities here and we need to, in law enforcement, do the same thing,” said Lakusta when speaking about staying ahead of criminal organizations.

“We rely on the brand that we have, the reputation that we have, as an organization and it’s great when we can pick up the phone when we can make contact with other agencies and gain their trust based on our past reputation.”

Methamphetamine and cocaine were also seized in the investigation.

Outside those two multi-jurisdiction busts ALERT, along with Saskatchewan police, also captured two men who were sharing child porn.

Moving into 2020, Lakusta said he’s planning for his force to continue to build on their past success.

“Essentially, we’re going to continue with our battle and will be relentless in our approach towards organized crime,” said Lakusta.