Bound by drugs and violence (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)
By PAUL TURENNE, COP REPORTER
Street gangsters in Winnipeg come in all shapes and sizes -- from aboriginal teens in disadvantaged neighbourhoods to white bikers born and bred in the suburbs.
Despite their differences, two things bind them: Drugs and violence.
Manitoba's gangsters and organized crime members -- last estimated at more than 1,500 -- are lured to the criminal underworld for reasons including a sense of belonging, personal protection and status. But it's money made from selling gang-controlled drugs that keeps them coming.
It's impossible to estimate the cash that sales of cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, marijuana and less common drugs puts into pockets of Winnipeg gangsters. Police have said the city's cocaine trade alone is worth more than $5 million a month.
A large portion of that trade can be traced to the city's two biggest outlaw motorcycle clubs: the Hells Angels and the Bandidos.
"I've heard them referred to as motorcycle enthusiasts and certainly they are that and more," Sgt. Rob Harding, a supervisor in the Winnipeg police organized crime unit, told Sun Media last fall.
"Probably the main part of their business is the drug trade. It's a money-making venture. And that's what they do."
In February, Winnipeg police arrested 13 people with alleged ties to the Hells Angels -- including Manitoba chapter president Ernie Dew. The bust came after an undercover police informant bought more than $400,000 worth of cocaine and meth from the bikers in less than a year.
That headline-grabbing sweep is the kind of bite Mayor Sam Katz wants to take out of organized crime.
After the provincial government provided the city with $4 million over two years to recruit an additional 48 cops, Katz and police Chief Jack Ewatski launched Operation Clean Sweep last November. It targeted street crime -- much of it gang-related -- mainly in the troubled West End.
"We're moving in the right direction. We need to do more," Katz said.
Besides the biker gangs and their puppet clubs -- mostly suburban white young men who run drugs and weapons for the bikers in order to insulate their superiors -- Winnipeg is home to Asian-based, aboriginal-based, African-based as well as European-based groups including the Mafia.
"We've got European connections here. We've got Italian connections here connected to Eastern Canada and eastern states, Chicago. There's some of everything," Harding said.
Some of the better known Winnipeg gangs are the Zig Zag Crew, the Indian Posse, the Manitoba Warriors and the Native Syndicate.
These gangs have a large presence at Manitoba prisons. The Native Syndicate, in fact, was started behind bars.
One of the newest gangs in Winnipeg made national headlines last October when Phil Haiart, a 17-year-old bystander, was killed by a stray bullet allegedly fired as a result of in-fighting between the Mad Cowz and splinter group African Mafia.
Cops became aware of the Mad Cowz in 2004. The gang is composed mainly of teenage African immigrants who live and sell cocaine in the city's West End.
The gang is known for its ruthlessness, but has managed to keep itself out of the news lately after an initial flurry of attention following Haiart's shooting.