A year ago, police heading a probe into an international drug ring bragged they had "chopped the head off the snake" when they arrested Vancouver resident Yong Long Ye.
On Friday, Ye pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import and traffic in cocaine and methamphetamine and was sentenced to 20 years behind bars.
And the 42-year-old also admitted he laundered millions in proceeds from his drug operations and agreed to forfeit six properties in B.C. and Ontario and $150,000 in mutual funds.
Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm said that the sentence, against which Ye received two years pre-trial credit, is a stiff one.
"The crimes for which the accused has pleaded guilty call for a lengthy prison term," Dohm said.
He noted that Ye's lawyer Ian Donaldson and federal Crown Anita Chan entered a joint sentencing recommendation for the father of a toddler son.
"The accused has pleaded guilty today to three very serious charges dealing with drugs -- the manufacture of, the exporting of, the trafficking of and in addition to laundering the proceeds of his activities," Dohm said. "There is no question he was the operating mind behind this whole operation."
Donaldson said that Ye saved court, policing and prosecution resources by pleading guilty in a case that was expected to take more than a year at trial.
While 16 co-accused are still before the courts, Donaldson said Ye's "absence from the proceedings will result in a very significant savings to the public." He also said that by pleading guilty and forfeiting four Metro Vancouver houses and two Toronto-area apartments, Ye "says I want this to be the end of it."
Ye wore a red prison uniform and sat emotionless, listening to his Cantonese interpreter Friday.
Several of his relatives were in the courtroom for the plea, as were a dozen police officers with the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, which oversaw the multi-agency, multi-year investigation into the biggest drug syndicate in B.C. history.
Ye's criminal empire involved associates across Canada, in Australia, the U.S., Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan, India and China, the court heard. He was buying cocaine in California and transporting it to Canada, as well as manufacturing meth for sale in Australia, where it can be sold for six times more than the going rate in B.C.
Chan said Ye was clearly motivated by the huge illicit profits in the drug trade and made major amounts of money during the period covered by the probe -- 2001 until his arrest in December 2007.
She said the Crown's case was "extremely strong" involving seven separate wiretap warrants that captured incriminating conversations between Ye and his associates over large shipments of money, drugs and property transfers. "These transcripts show Ye was the man in charge," Chan said.
She said the gang moved "over $4 million between Toronto and Vancouver" in just a few months last year using couriers flying on commercial flights with packages containing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Some of that cash was intercepted by police, who opened luggage at Vancouver airport, photographed the vacuum-packed bundles and then re-packed it in the luggage so the courier could unwittingly claim the bags and deliver the money to Ye.
Ye's world began to unravel in October 2006 when U.S. drug enforcement officials learned that an organized crime group was importing large quantities of cocaine from Los Angeles into Canada.
Chan described two of the shipments totalling 81 kilograms linked to Ye in March and April of 2007 and worth $6.5 million at the street level. A 20-kg load was uncovered in a commercial truck attempting to cross into Canada, but the other 61 kilograms described in Ye's recorded phone calls made it here undetected, she said.
As the investigation intensified, a Burnaby residence linked to the gang was raided on Aug. 7, 2007, and police found a "fully functioning meth lab," Chan said.
On Aug. 22, 2007, police also intercepted a load of meth sent to Australia worth $2.5 million there. Afterwards, Ye was heard on wiretap talking to an Aussie associate, trying to figure out how much evidence police had, Chan told Dohm.
She said even when Ye was worried about the scrutiny of law enforcement, he would simply "lay low, switch cellphones and continue on as before."
On Sept. 13, 2007, a 550-pound shipment of ephedrine -- a precursor chemical for meth-- was intercepted as it was trucked through Manitoba, Chan said.
Until Ye was nabbed in December 2007, he lived on Vancouver's Deering Island in a house assessed at $1.4 million, which is one of the six he forfeited Friday. And it was where police surveilled him constantly, uncovering much of the evidence used to get the convictions Friday, even picking through the family's garbage searching for clues.
Police said they were happy with the outcome.
"This clearly illustrates the seriousness of the offences," said CFSEU head Supt. Doug Kiloh. "The illegal drug trade affects people across local, regional and international boundaries. I would like to thank all the people and agencies involved for their dedication and hard work in disrupting this organization.''
And RCMP Chief Supt. Bob Harriman said "today's guilty plea, sentence and property forfeiture clearly demonstrates that criminal activity is not a licence to print money."
"Besides facing the prospect of significant jail time, assets gained through the proceeds of criminal activity will be seized or forfeited," he said.