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Mexican Narco Assassins Were Sent to the Philippines to Murder Two Canadian Gangsters

Two gangsters from Vancouver were arrested in Manila this month after being found with lots and lots of drugs. Now, not only are they staring down life in a Philippine prison, they have Mexican Cartel assassins to worry about.
January 29, 2014, 4:37pm

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Earlier this month, agents of the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation raided three separate luxury condos in suburban Manila—one of which had been operating as a drug processing lab—and arrested four Canadians. The NBI ended up seizing $2.5 million dollars worth of cocaine, MDMA, and meth (or as they say in Asia, shabu) in the process.

Two of the men arrested, James Riach and Barry Espadilla, have close ties with BC’s lower mainland underworld according to Kim Bolan of the Vancouver Sun as former members of a gang called the Independent Soldiers, and most recently have been affiliated with the Wolf Pack—a gang that Bolan writes is “a coalition made up of some I.S. members, some Red Scorpions and some Hells Angels.”

Both Riach and Espadilla have extensive rap sheets, and appear to have been staples of the lower mainland’s gang warfare clusterfuck. Espadilla has convictions for manslaughter, cocaine, and heroin possession under his belt; and James Riach, who has a gun conviction, was in the same Porsche Cayenne as high profile Hells Angel Larry Amero and then leader of the Red Scorpions, Jonathan Bacon, when the luxury SUV was ambushed by three men in balaclavas, wielding automatic weapons, outside a Kelowna hotel. Bacon was killed in the attack and a female acquaintance was left paralyzed, while Riach and Amero escaped unscathed.

Facing this level of public, Mexican Sinaloa cartel style violence—and the possibility that there were hits out on their lives, too—is likely what prompted Riach and Espadilla to close up shop in the lower mainland and dip to the Philippines; where they probably assumed they could ply their trade in relative anonymity. This plan worked for seven months. Riach and Espadilla had allegedly been capitalizing on ties they maintained with a Mexican cartel from their work in BC, and were importing cocaine along with the ingredients for meth and molly into the Philippines, where they’d process the drugs at their condo and sell them for cheap.

So cheap in fact, their half-price meth was undercutting the dominant Chinese gangs. It’s this kind of competitive business practice that can lead to violence. So, fearing a drug war in Manila, the NBI’s Anti-Organized and Transnational Crime Chief Rommel Vallejo started putting people in handcuffs. As Vallejo told the Associated Press last week: “There are so many Chinese syndicates involved in drugs, and some of them will feel threatened by these cheap drugs… I believe that if we don't check it, this will lead to a drug war."

In most ordinary drug war prevention stories, these arrests would mark the end of the dramatics. But unfortunately for Riach and Espadilla, sitting in a jail in the Philippines was only the beginning of their very serious problems. Despite already facing no set bail on top of harsh Philippines drug laws proposing life in prison, these two BC gangsters now have Mexican Cartel assassins to worry about.

In a statement to reporters in Manila on Friday, Justice Leila de Lima confirmed that the government has been made aware, through American and Canadian authorities, that a Mexican cartel is now targeting the Canadians. According to de Lima, the cartel (that previously did business with Riach and Espadilla) sent two assassins “to silence them."

Authorities in the Philippines have said they’ll be on the lookout at their borders (they claim to have received photos of the killers from INTERPOL) and will be beefing up security around the inmates. Still, it’s hard not to picture these guys marching through the streets of Manila, on their way to the jailhouse, with a huge wad of Filipino pesos to pay off the guards and get busy.

Meanwhile, as Bolan pointed out in the Vancouver Sun, Barry Espasilla quipped on his Facebook Page that jail in the Philippines “is actually a lot better than over there [in BC].” That may be true, but if the Mexican cartel assassins are successful, the conditions for inmates over in the Philippines may be a moot point. @ddner