The takedown of a major drug dealer doesn’t happen overnight, as the investigation into marijuana kingpin Jimmy Cournoyer demonstrates. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) began looking into the Queens, New York-based drug dealer as early as January 2007. Cournoyer was recently sentenced to 27 years in federal prison.
That day in January 2007, Cournoyer’s disgruntled ex-wife came into a DEA office on Long Island to vent. She insisted that Cournoyer, the French-Canadian-born father of her child, was a major player in the New York City marijuana trade.
So began a seven-year-long investigation into a man now dubbed the biggest pot dealer in a long history of the trade in New York City. Those investigating his case say the size and sophistication of the drug empire is unparalleled.
“We never saw anything like this guy before,” federal prosecutor Steven L. Tiscione told the New York Times. “In terms of his longevity and scope, and the connections he had around the world, nothing, nobody, comes close.”
In the mid-2000s, Cournoyer began overseeing shipments of hydroponically grown marijuana across the New York-Quebec border via motorboat and snowmobile. After distributing the product to dealers throughout the city, Cournoyer laundered his massive income through the Sinaloa drug cartel, and ferried the rest of it up to Canada in pickup trucks with secret compartments in their radios or gas tanks.
Cournoyer’s position was one of prestige. The dealer, now 34 years-old, drove a limited-edition Bugatti Veyron worth $2 million and dated a lingerie model. On a trip to Ibiza, he attended a party also attended by Hollywood elites like Leonardo DiCaprio — which seems appropriate, since Cournoyer’s larger-than-life story rivals any Scorsese film.
One year after the complaint was made against him, Cournoyer was caught selling drugs and became an informant to the small task force working to bring him down. Through his testimony and evidence gathered through wiretaps, the task force learned the name of Cournoyer’s supplier in Canada.
Investigators learned that Cournoyer’s drug involvement began when he was 18 and served jail time for growing marijuana in his native Quebec. According to Tiscione, Cournoyer became “determined to never again be found in the compromising position of physically touching narcotics.” Thus, he “began expanding his roster of associates and installing additional layers of subordinates between himself” and the drugs.
Among his contacts were gangs of Hells Angels hired to drive huge loads of pot across the border, a network of Native American smugglers moving loads across the border in St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, the Rizutto crime family of Montreal, and a one-legged Quebec native named Patrick Paisse who made the connections possible.
The task force made an informant of one of the Native American drug runners, leading to a series of arrests and seizures of vast sums of drug money and narcotics. On a Blackberry seized during one of the arrests, they saw texts saying, in part, that Cournoyer kept a $2 million slush fund to pay for the murder of anyone who crossed him.
After five years of old-fashioned police work, the task force finally managed to indict Cournoyer before a grand jury on January 20, 2012. A month later, he tried to flee to Cancun, but an Interpol red alert went out for his capture, and he was apprehended by Mexican police.
In the end, facing mounting evidence against him, Cournoyer pleaded guilty days before his trial was scheduled to begin in May of 2013.
Although marijuana is increasingly legalized throughout the nation, prosecutors argued that Cournoyer’s syndicate was a violent one that enriched other criminal syndicates. Friends and family countered the argument with letters sent to court, praising Counoyer’s good nature and blaming his crimes on the trauma he suffered when his father abandoned his family.
His lawyer, however, said Cournoyer was driven through his endeavors by one passion: a love and want of money.