Twelve face charges in connection with contraband alcohol ring
Twelve people appeared in court Tuesday and one more is set to appear in connection with a contraband wine ring.
Montreal police led the investigation, which came to a head around 6 a.m. when police from Montreal, Longueuil and other South Shore municipalities, the Surete du Quebec and agents from the Canadian Border Services Agency carried out arrest warrants for the suspects.
Police said the head of the ring is wine expert Luca Gaspari, 52, who was apprehended at his St. Basile le Grand home.
The other major player is former WHA hockey player, Floyd Lahache, 57, who runs the First Nations Winery in Kahnawake.
Cmdr. Ian Lafreniere said the group ordered the bulk wine from Europe, mixed in flavouring and additives and sold it as Chianti, even selling their concoctions using well-known brand names.
Lafreniere said there is no reason to believe anything dangerous was added. He estimates as many as two million bottles of “Italian” wine were sold at between $6 and $7 each.
He declined to say where, exactly, the wine was bottled.
“Products were added to make it [taste] like [the real thing], but when it’s too good to be true, maybe it’s not true,” he said.
The wine was allegedly sold out of one store on the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve, but most of the sales were private; one person would buy a box or two and sell bottles to friends and acquaintances, police say.
The Crown said the wine was imported from Italy, cleared customs in Ontario and was sold at the First Nations winery, where only Native people are allowed to purchase it.
Police seized 89,000 litres of bulk wine in January as part of the investigation. The bulk wine is currently in the SAQ’s possession.
Police estimate the sales of the wine account for about $14 million in lost tax revenue for the government.
The suspects face charges of fraud, trademark infringement and profiting from the proceeds of crime.
They were all released on bail bonds of up to $20,000. They did not enter a plea.
The case returns to court in late September.