Lake Cowichan man guilty after $2.6 million chucked overboard

Money laundering: sentencing date pending after guilty verdict in 2011 incident off south Vancouver Island coast

Cpl. Paul Minkley

Cpl. Paul Minkley

Your typical money laundering case doesn’t usually include more than $2 million actually immersed in water.

But that is exactly what happened in the case of a Lake Cowichan man found guilty in a Victoria courthouse earlier this month.

A sentencing date awaits Jeffrey Melchior, who was convicted  May 2 of money laundering and possession of property obtained by crime, Crown spokeswomen Sujata Raisinghani told the News Leader Pictorial via email from Ottawa.

Melchior is not in custody while awaiting sentencing and Crown declined to comment about penalties his charges could carry.

His conviction follows an adventure akin to a Hollywood movie.

November 2011 saw the tightest police security ever seen at RCMP headquarters in Victoria as Mounties announced they’d seized more than US $2.6 million in one of Canada’s largest seizures of laundered money.

RCMP Supt. Derek Simmonds, of B.C.’s federal Border Integrity program, said the money was fished from waters near Sidney in March 2011.

That nighttime haul happened after the pilot of a suspicious, fast-moving boat — without running lights — tossed a suitcase overboard as an RCMP patrol boat was about to intercept it.

After recovering the suitcase, police arrested Melchior, then 44. He was charged with possession of property obtained by crime and laundering proceeds of crime. The recovered bundles of bills were wrapped in plastic.

Melchior offered two explanations when he was stopped: first, that he was scouting dive sites; then that he was on his way to meet a woman.

“Neither explanation made any sense,” Victoria’s Times Colonist quoted Crown lawyer Sharon Steele telling the court earlier this month.

Judge Ernie Quantz said criminal activity was the logical explanation for Melchior’s presence in a small vessel travelling without lights near the Canada-U.S. border, in an area known for smuggling activity, the Colonist says.

In April, Judge Quantz issued a 24-page decision on matters of evidence. He said Melchior was properly detained and questioned, his rights weren’t breached when his mobile device was searched without a warrant, and the messages were admissible.

Text messages recovered from his mobile device recounted a conversation between him and someone in the U.S. expressing concern about “bikes” and “birds” – possibly referring to coast guard boats and helicopters, the Colonist reports.

Simmonds said the five-metre, rigid-hull, inflatable boat was just two nautical miles – six minutes – away from the U.S. border when police intercepted it. Melchior was unarmed, unknown to police, and was the only person aboard.

If it hadn’t been for Melchior allegedly moving at high speed toward the international border, on a route known to smugglers, the RCMP’s border-integrity operations centre might have missed his boat, Simmonds said.

The centre relayed the suspicious information to an RCMP marine patrol, he said, and it cut off Melchior’s craft before it reached the border. There was no high-speed pursuit.

Simmonds said moving currency or contraband in large sums, such as the soggy cash recovered, is a common identifier for organized-crime activity.

Once the case ends, the $2.6 million will be diverted to the federal government’s general revenues, Simmonds said.