He may have been confined to an Oklahoma jail last month, but the alleged head of British Columbia's notorious UN Gang was still intent on taking care of gang business while in custody, U.S. prosecutors said yesterday.
A detention hearing in U.S. District Court was told that Clay Roueche of Coquitlam made three dozen telephone calls from federal facilities between his arrest in Texas on May 17 and his arrival in Seattle, where he faces charges of conspiring to import and export drugs and engage in money laundering.
U.S. authorities caught up with Mr. Roueche when he attempted to enter Mexico last month to attend the wedding of a gang member, but was turned away because of Canadian and U.S. allegations, prosecutors said.
Since 2005, the UN Gang - seen as a major player in gang violence in the Lower Mainland - has been under investigation by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration in the U.S., and British Columbia's Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit.
"Oklahoma prison officials realized that he was speaking in code on the phone so denied him phone privileges. They also found a 'code book' he tried to secret in his cell," according to a government submission document released yesterday.
Mr. Roueche, by telephone, allegedly convened a "mandatory meeting" of UN Gang members at his parents' house for May 31, intending for his parents to provide "his directives to the Gang," but was unable to provide those orders because those phone privileges were taken away.
But the documents say the B.C. special enforcement "surveilled approximately 20 UN Gang members, who gathered at his parents' house in Canada that evening."
Prosecutor Ron Friedman referred to Mr. Roueche as "the head honcho" of the UN Gang.
"There are two Clayton Roueches or there is one. I submit there is one. This is him," Mr. Friedman said.
Mr. Roueche has pleaded not guilty to the charges and none of the allegations has been proved in court.
Mr. Roueche's lawyer, Irwin Schwartz of Seattle, countered by suggesting prosecutors were throwing up a "string of inferences," instead describing his client as an "attentive father" with roots in the Lower Mainland, employed in his parents' scrap business, and suggesting there was no hard evidence before the court yesterday of his client's gang links.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Alice Theiler, who was asked to decide whether Mr. Roueche should be held in custody pending an Aug. 4 trial on charges of conspiracy to import cocaine and marijuana plus money laundering, eventually ruled for the prosecution.
"There are suggestions of gang membership," she said, referring to evidence that included surveillance and media photos of Mr. Roueche in UN Gang garb, and a group photo of gang members taken at the 2005 funeral of a member.
"The leadership is to be decided another day."
Prosecutors allege Mr. Roueche has travelled to such places as Vietnam, Macau, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Bangkok and Dubai since 2003 - a total of 14 trips - but studiously avoided coming through the United States for fear he would be nabbed.
When he was turned away by Mexican authorities, members of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration in the United States learned of the trip and put Mr. Roueche under surveillance.
Mr. Roueche was put on a flight to Vancouver that was to make a stopover in Dallas. U.S. agents had Mr. Roueche under surveillance during the flight and were ready to arrest him.
"Once on the plane and in his seat, Roueche quickly began sending BlackBerry messages, indicating he was concerned about flying through the U.S., saying that perhaps he was being paranoid but he was worried about being arrested," said the government's submission.
"He also BlackBerried information about bank accounts and access codes before he had to turn off the device."
He was arrested upon arrival in Texas.
Mr. Roueche is before the courts because of his alleged role in Operation Frozen Timber, a cross-border drug-smuggling operation first disclosed by U.S. and Canadian officials about two years ago.
Authorities claim to have evidence of about two dozen cocaine exporting trips from the United States into Canada and three cocaine loads totalling about 200 kilograms - some stamped with the UN logo.
Prosecutors said investigators intercepted "loads of cash," a total of $750,000 in proceeds from marijuana sales that were being taken from the Seattle area to Los Angeles to buy cocaine.
Investigators allegedly seized and photographed four separate marijuana imports, totalling about 900 kilograms of "B.C. bud" heading into Washington State and documented other loads. The drugs, they say, were often delivered into the United States by helicopter. They alleged Mr. Roueche was intercepted in communications discussing the seizures.
Mr. Roueche was charged in a sealed indictment in November, 2007. After his arrest, four other defendants were arrested as well as a defendant in a related case, the government's submission said.
In British Columbia, the UN Gang has been linked to some of the incidents that have led to a number of fatal shootings in the Lower Mainland in recent months.
After Mr. Roueche's arrest, police searched his Coquitlam home and found an illegal Glock 9 mm handgun that was loaded, two balaclava masks, pepper spray, handcuffs and night-vision goggles along with pictures of a rival gang member deemed, in the government's submission, "a kit for kidnapping or murder."
U.S. prosecutors also noted that Mr. Roueche drove an armoured car with a "sophisticated hidden compartment" that contained an illegally owned and stored handgun.