Two years ago, people grew suspicious when “Crazy J.J.” — as Jacob Kwong Lee is known on Whitehorse streets — bought a cube van and started driving it to and from Vancouver.
Lee is deeply involved in organized drug dealing, gambling and immigration rackets that involve some members of Whitehorse’s Chinese community, said a source who came forward on the condition of anonymity.
“It’s sort of a known fact that he deals in drugs; he’s a loan shark, a bookie,” said the source. “So when he started driving down to Vancouver with this truck, everyone just assumed he was bringing drugs back.”
On February 17, Whitehorse RCMP found nearly five kilograms of cocaine and 41 kilograms of marijuana in Lee’s cube van when they stopped the vehicle on the Alaska Highway just south of Whitehorse.
Called the biggest drug bust in the territory’s history, the five bricks and eight bags of cocaine found in Lee’s truck — discovered in food produce boxes — have a street value of up to $500,000.
The marijuana shipment alone exceeds the Yukon RCMP’s 2004 total pot seizure (the latest statistics available) by a staggering 34 kilograms.
Forty-six-year-old Lee, who works as the kitchen and restaurant manager at the Gold Rush Inn, is charged with one count of possessing marijuana with the purpose of trafficking, and one count of possessing cocaine with the purpose of trafficking.
His passenger, 48-year-old Frank Yat Fan Tse, of Vancouver, faces the same charges.
About two years ago, Lee bought a cube van and began a side business buying Asian restaurant supplies, such as noodles, in Vancouver that he sold to Whitehorse restaurants, said the source, who claims to have firsthand knowledge of the Chinese community.
This person approached the News months ago with allegations of drug dealing, gambling dens and illegal immigration schemes that are happening beneath the RCMP’s radar.
During that first meeting, the source said Lee’s van was connected to drug trafficking and said he had told the RCMP as much.
Lee’s business was clearly suspicious, he said.
“How can you have a business just selling noodles?” he asked. “The Superstore people supply restaurants with that stuff. People just assumed that’s what he was doing. He’s always on the go, in and out of town.”
The source alleged Lee is believed to be a wholesaler of drugs who uses people who have recently immigrated to the Yukon from China to do his bidding.
“They’re not Whitehorse people. Nobody knows who they are — they’re people from Vancouver, like the ones busted in the grow ops, those kind of guys,” he said.
Crimes such as a recent robbery at a local Chinese restaurant are linked to the drug activity, he said.
“The word is that was gang money that was stolen.”
And though he doesn’t believe the group is violent towards the general public, the story is often different for Chinese people — who fear reprisals both here in the Yukon and against their families in China, he said.
Lee, his wife and several of his stepchildren work in the restaurant at the Gold Rush Inn.
News that Lee was caught with a van full of drugs has hit the hotel hard, said general manager Dikran Zabunyan in an interview after the bust.
“We are as shocked as everybody else (about Lee’s arrest),” said Zabunyan. “We found out like everyone else, over the radio.”
Lee operates the hotel’s restaurant on a month-to-month contract, said Zabunyan.
Zabunyan became the hotel’s manager in May 2006. In his short time, he has found Lee to be professional and hardworking, he said.
He knew about Lee’s restaurant-supply shipping business.
“I’m sure he was bringing up produce for other restaurants,” said Zabunyan. “I didn’t suspect anything.”
Lee would go down to Vancouver once every two months for groceries and stay for one to two weeks, he said.
His arrest, which came on the cusp of the Canada Winter Games, would probably not lead to immediate replacements in the kitchen or restaurant, said Zabunyan.
“We’re not going to make any changes,” he said. “His wife is basically the person running the place. He was a figurehead.
“Our concessions have to be open. As far as we’re concerned it’s business as usual.”
Will Lee be working at the Gold Rush Inn again?
“That’s up for debate,” said Zabunyan. “I don’t think he’ll be back here.”
The Gold Rush Inn is owned by Northern Vision Development Corp.
Shareholders in Northern Vision include Canada Games president Piers McDonald, Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell and former NDP cabinet minister Trevor Harding.