A Niagara-area police officer and an ex-cop are among three charged in what's alleged to be a "large-scale smuggling scheme" to bring illicit cheese into Ontario from the U.S.
The Niagara Regional Police Service confirmed Thursday that charges under the Customs Act and others have been formally laid against Scott Heron, an NRPS constable suspended from duty since June 26; Casey Langelaan, another NRPS member who was suspended June 26 and is no longer with the service; and Bernie Pollino, a Fort Erie Resident.
The alleged smuggling network in question involved "the purchasing of cases of cheese and other food items and transporting these cases into Canada, without declaring the items or paying duty," the NRPS said in a release Thursday.
"Once the products arrived in the country, they were sorted and prepared for distribution to a variety of restaurants in southern Ontario" at a "significant financial gain," police said.
Over $200,000 worth of cheese and other products were purchased and distributed for an estimated profit of over $165,000, the NRPS said Thursday.
NRPS investigators were involved in the case along with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Canada Border Services Agency. The investigation has been underway since January, the police service said.
NRPS officers have reportedly been interviewing pizzeria operators in the region in recent weeks, asking where they get their cheese.
One Port Colborne pizzeria owner told CBC he'd been approached two years ago by a Fort Erie man offering cases of U.S. cheese for $150 each, compared to $240 for such product in Canada. The restaurateur said he rejected the offer as illegal and the cheese as inferior.
Another Niagara Falls pizzeria owner told the national broadcaster that higher prices for Canadian cheese and restrictions on U.S. imports under Canada's supply management system for dairy products have led to an illicit trade in U.S. cheese.
The Niagara Falls restaurateur said his shop is approached on a "monthly basis" by someone wanting to bring U.S. cheese over the border.
The same proprietor told the Toronto Star he is a Nexus cardholder and would not want to jeopardize his ability to visit family in the U.S. over smuggled cheese.
The price of pizza cheeses in Canada has been a long-standing complaint of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association. The CRFA claims supply management in Canada's dairy industry creates a "two-tiered pricing system" for pizza cheeses.
The CRFA has said food processing companies in Canada have had access to "significantly cheaper-priced" mozzarella for use in frozen pizzas under the special category 5A class since 1989, relative to what pizzeria operators must pay for the same product.