Drug trafficker snared in RCMP probe sentenced to eight years (2024)

A high-level cocaine trafficker, who was once described by a justice official as “violent” and “ambitious,” has been sentenced to eight years for his part in a massive drug smuggling operation that had international connections.

William Gooding, 36, was picked up by Manitoba RCMP on March 1, 2022, while he was incarcerated at Stony Mountain federal prison on an unrelated conviction.

He pleaded guilty to one count of trafficking cocaine and was handed his federal sentence by Court of King’s Bench Justice Joan McKelvey last week. She also banned him from owning weapons for 10 years.

“The offence of trafficking in this highly addictive substance, that creates havoc in the community and causes further crime and social harm, is egregious and cannot be tolerated,” said McKelvey in a written decision.

Gooding was among 22 people arrested as part of an RCMP and Winkler Police Service drug probe that began in 2018 when a Mountie analyst noticed an uptick in the flow of illicit substances to Manitoba from North Dakota.

The investigation, dubbed Project Divergent, resulted in the largest seizure of drugs in Manitoba RCMP history and targeted five Canadian and international crime networks, with the assistance of law enforcement from multiple countries.

Gooding — who justice officials allege leads a drug group of his own — was charged after RCMP recruited a civilian agent in July 2020 to purchase drugs from people involved in inter-provincial and international drug smuggling.

Gooding has a lengthy criminal history, including convictions for drug trafficking and firearms offences, and was on bail or wanted on a warrant while he committed crimes uncovered by Project Divergent.

He and his drug group appear entrenched in a violent conflict with other drug groups in Winnipeg, a probation officer said in a pre-sentence report prepared for the court.

“Willy is a violent drug trafficker who possesses a criminally entrenched attitude, which is highly resistant to correctional interventions and pro-social change, characterized by indifference to community supervision, court imposed sanctions and rule of law,” reads the report.

A federal parole officer wrote in a statutory release decision that he is a “violent, ambitious drug trafficker.”

In the Project Divergent case, he was caught selling kilograms of cocaine on two occasions.

On March 8, 2021, an RCMP agent met Chris Yakimoski in a parking lot at Grant Avenue and Kenaston Boulevard, where they agreed to the sale of a kilogram of cocaine for the COVID-19 inflated price of $68,000, McKelvey wrote in a May court ruling in which she decided Gooding could be classified as a high-level dealer for sentencing purposes.

Yakimoski — who was sentenced to seven years for trafficking in 2023 — said they would need to meet with another person, Gooding, to finish the deal. The agent parked at a lot on North Town Road, before Yakimoski went to Highland Creek Road, where he got into Gooding’s Porsche.

The pair drove back to meet the agent on North Town Road, where they exchanged about a kilogram of cocaine and $68,000 in cash. Gooding, the judge wrote in the May decision, employed “counter-surveillance techniques” throughout and after the drug transaction.

On April 22, 2022, the agent went to a parking lot in the Bridgwater neighbourhood in Winnipeg to again meet with Yakimoski to buy a kilogram of cocaine, this time for $63,000. The pair, along with another man, drove to a gym in the area, where they waited in a vehicle for Gooding to arrive an hour later.

Gooding sold the cocaine to the agent in Yakimoski’s vehicle, then changed his own vehicle and its licence plates after the deal before heading to a local mall. After making a purchase at the mall, he changed vehicles and again drove in a way that RCMP think was meant to throw off surveillance.

The judge ruled in May that Gooding should be considered a high-level trafficker due to the quantities and purity of cocaine he sold, the trusted position required to handle such cocaine, his direction of Yakimoski and his use of counter-surveillance techniques, among other reasons.

Gooding had argued he was simply a courier, not a high-level dealer. He claims to want to leave the drug life behind and move to Ontario.

Gooding got involved in drug trafficking at age 13. He was taken into the permanent care of child welfare due to violence and alcohol in the home and grew up in poverty.

As part of the project, RCMP seized 110 kilograms of cocaine, more than 40 kilograms of methamphetamine, three kilograms of fentanyl, 500 grams of MDMA, 14 handguns, five semi-automatic rifles and more than $445,000 in cash.


Drug trafficker snared in RCMP probe sentenced to eight years (2)

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera is a reporter for the Free Press, mostly focusing on crime and justice. The born-and-bred Winnipegger attended Red River College Polytechnic, wrote for the community newspaper in Kenora, Ont. and reported on television and radio in Winnipeg before joining the Free Press in 2020. Read more about Erik.

Every piece of reporting Erik produces is reviewed by an editing team before it is posted online or published in print — part of the Free Press‘s tradition, since 1872, of producing reliable independent journalism. Read more about Free Press’s history and mandate, and learn how our newsroom operates.

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Drug trafficker snared in RCMP probe sentenced to eight years (2024)
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