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Maple Ridge mother arrested in Manila drug bust

The sister of a Maple Ridge woman paralyzed in a gang shootout has been arrested in a raid in the Philippines targeting Canadian drug traffickers.

Tara Hadden-Watts was taken into custody Wednesday in one of three separate raids on posh condominiums in Manila.

According to the Associated Press, police seized a large stash of cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA worth more than 100 million pesos ($2.25 million).

“This is the first time we have encountered a syndicate composed of Canadian nationals,” said Rommell Vallejo, chief of the Anti-Organized and Transnational Crime Division of the National Bureau of Investigation.

Police allege the Canadian suspects have alleged links to a Mexican cartel and are undercutting Chinese traffickers dominating the local market.

Vallejo identified the suspects in custody as James Riach, Ali Shirazi, Barry Espadilla and Tristan Olazo.

The men could face life in prison if convicted.

Vallejo told AP that Espadilla’s wife – Hadden-Watts – was detained in the third condominium. Espadilla and Hadden-Watts have a young son.

According to B.C.’s gang task force, Riach and Espadilla are part of the Wolf Pack, a coalition of gang members comprised of Red Scorpions, Hells Angels and Independent Soldiers.

Both Riach and Espadilla have lengthy criminal records in B.C.

Hadden-Watts’ younger sister, Leah, was in an SUV with Riach and Hells Angel Larry Amero when Red Scorpion kingpin Jonathan Bacon was killed in 2011 in a hail of gun fire. The shoot-out left Leah paralyzed.

Leah and Tara are the nieces of Haney Hells Angels chapter president Mike Hadden.

Police won’t say if they were aware that Riach and Espadilla were in the Philippines.

Const. Doug Spencer, with B.C.’s Transit police force and gang expert, has known Riach and Espadilla for a long time.

“They’ve been involved in the drug trade in the Lower Mainland for years,” said Spencer, who believes the pair relocated to the Philippines as their lives were in danger.

“These guys have been at odds since the Gurmeet Dhak shooting in Metrotown in 2010.”

The Wolf Pack’s plan to consolidate resources and corner the drug trade in B.C. have been scuttled by several recent murders.

“It’s going to be like the Wolf Pooch, just one of them running around,” quipped Spencer, who also works with Odd Squad Productions Society to steer young people away from gangs.

“The U.N. are pretty much decimated, the Wolf Pack is decimated, the Red Scorpions in jail or dead and the Gurmeet Dhak and Duhre group also depleted. So you’ve got this big vacuum in the drug trade.”

For the past year, however, Spencer says Odd Squad presentations have been targeting girls.

“In the past three or four years, we’ve noticed women have been taking a far more active role in gang life. As a result, five or six of them have been killed,” said Spencer.

“We show the consequences of young women making bad decisions. The gangs don’t tell them the bad stuff. They tell you all the bling, bling stuff. They will treat the girls like little princesses. Give them the Louis Vuitton purse, give them the cell phone, the apartment, the little dog … but it’s at a cost. They don’t realize that they are putting themselves in harm’s way.”

The Odd Squad presentation also address what happens when a gangster, drug-dealing boyfriend gets murdered or goes to jail for a long time.

Spencer says it’s a situation Tara Hadden-Watts’ finds herself in now.

“She’s got a young son and the father is looking at 20 years or more in prison. For that amount of drugs, you could actually get the death penalty down there,” said Spencer.

“I feel bad for this girl. She’s got a young kid. Her whole world has just been rocked and it’s stuff that she didn’t think about.”

In an email, Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mathieu Roy said "we are aware that four Canadians were arrested in the Philippines. Consular officials are liaising with local authorities to gather additional information."

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