|Police in protective clothing disassemble a drug lab near Beaverdell that had been manufacturing MDMA, commonly known as the drug ecstasy. Four people were arrested in the investigation.|
Officers swooped in on the rural property on Christian Valley Road as three men and a woman were cooking up chemicals used to manufacture the popular rave drug last Wednesday.
They arrested the foursome and seized 3.5 kilograms of MDMA powder - enough to make up to 200,000 tablets.
"A group of people working closely together developed an operation where they knowingly manufactured and sold harmful and illegal substances to people to make a profit," said Supt. Tim Head of Southeast District RCMP.
"(It's) one of the largest MDMA laboratories ever discovered in B.C."
Police began following the alleged leader of the operation in September after receiving a tip or intelligence that led them to the lab, a storage locker in Kelowna and a large house in a wealthy neighbourhood on Chute Lake Road.
The lab was built inside a working garage on a nondescript acreage north of Westbridge. When police raided the so-called super lab, the suspects were working in the production area where the chemicals are cooked to manufacture the drug.
RCMP suspect they have ties to organized crime, but wouldn't specify which gang. The three-month probe apparently uncovered a distribution network the suspects planned to use once the powder was converted to tablets.
Processing the chemicals to make the MDMA would take a few days to a week, said Insp. Rick Flewelling of Kelowna RCMP. He believes the lab had been operating for up to two years.
The lab was equipped with boiling flasks, sinks, hoses and scores of large buckets. Officers found a reaction chamber and a hydrogen-chloride tank containing the corrosive gas, which they predict would have been emptied into the air.
Investigators called in a special response team to dismantle the operation because of the potential for fire or explosions and the risks to human health and the environment. It took them four days to shut it down.
The team removed 100 gallons of chemicals and more than 500 gallons of toxic waste - material that may have ended up dumped nearby. Experts are now assessing the environmental harm.
"As devastating as this environmental damage can be, it pales in comparison to the lives of youths and adults that are destroyed by the types of synthetic drugs being produced in these labs," said Flewelling.
Demand for MDMA is acute among young people looking for euphoria at nightclubs and rave parties. Each tablet costs $5 to $7 on the street, an attainable price for children and young adults.
Sgt. Duncan Pound estimates 20 British Columbians die of ecstasy-related overdoses each year. No one controls the quality or potency of each tablet, so users are gambling with their lives each time they ingest one, he said.
RCMP aren't saying whether investigators listened to phone conversations before last week's raid. They knew where to find chemical precursors (likely safrole, piperonal or PMK) related to the operation in a Kelowna storage locker.
They found $85,000 cash, most of it in 20s, at the Chute Lake address. The resident conducted the operation's business there, police said.
"(This) will have a serious disruption to any organized-crime group that's trying to produce and sell these products. This is a great success story," said Pound.
Ryan Patrick Novy, 32, is charged with production, possession for the purpose of trafficking, money laundering and possessing property obtained by crime.
Alesya Efimenko, 29, William Charles Forrest, 24, and Bradley Fraser Garth, 39, are each charged with production and possession for the purpose of trafficking. Their next court appearance is Jan. 31.
More arrests and charges are possible, police said.