Nov 23 2011 MONTREAL - The Hells Angels still appear to be wielding considerable clout in the lucrative drug market even though many members are in prison, police said Wednesday.
"There are certain people pulling the strings from behind bars," Insp. Michel Pelletier, head of the Quebec provincial police's organized crime squad, said in an interview.
"But how are they doing it? It's clear they have people working for them outside and there are cells that continued to work or started up again after 2009."
Pelletier was speaking several hours after police arrested 28 people in a major strike against an alleged drug-trafficking ring they said had ties to the Hells Angels.
Twenty-five people were arrested in Quebec, while three others were detained in New Brunswick during pre-dawn raids by organized crime officers.
While the Hells Angels membership has been hammered by major Quebec police operations in the last 10 years, the gang's influence appears intact.
Police wouldn't identify anyone arrested Wednesday as the mastermind.
"Many of them are people with criminal backgrounds who had the capacity to take over for the Hells Angels in drug distribution - notably cocaine and methamphetamine," Pelletier said.
"Each cell worked in its own way."
It isn't the first time someone has tried to take over the drug market once cornered by criminal biker gangs. And police say they know it won't be the last.
Operation Springtime 2001 crippled the Hells hierarchy and was followed by Operation SharQC in April 2009.
Wednesday's arrests were part of one of four major drug-related operations in the past year in Quebec.
"We're ready to take them down," said Lt. Guy Lapointe, a spokesman for the squad.
"We plan to keep cracking down on anyone who tries to take that market."
Wednesday's raids in Quebec took place in about 25 municipalities, mostly around Montreal.
More than 400 officers were involved in the pre-dawn strikes, which netted 27 firearms, $140,000 in cash and nearly two kilograms of cocaine.
Most of those arrested were arraigned via video conference on various charges, including drug trafficking, conspiracy, receiving stolen goods, gangsterism and possession of prohibited firearms.
Police noted they previously seized more than $300,000 in cash, 27 kilos of marijuana, eight kilograms of cocaine and 167,000 methamphetamine tablets since the investigation began in 2009.
In New Brunswick, police keyed in on the towns of Bathurst, Beresford, Tracadie and Saint-Sauveur.
"This fourth cell was also trafficking drugs in New Brunswick, but it was getting the drugs from the Montreal cells," Lapointe said.
RCMP say police in New Brunswick have been working with authorities in Quebec since 2010 to investigate groups with alleged connections to the outlaw biker gang.
As part of the probe in New Brunswick, the Mounties arrested a 46-year-old man last weekend, although he was later released.
Police in the Maritime province say they seized large amounts of cocaine, marijuana, pills and cash during the investigation.
While the warrants were centred in the northern part of the province, RCMP Staff-Sgt. Al Farrah said the cell had tentacles in Moncton, Shediac and Fredericton.
"It's possible that there will be other arrests in the days and weeks to come," Farrah said.