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Pivot Airlines: W5 Exposes Company Funding Flight Caught With Cocaine

A seismic international drug-trafficking scandal that led to the arrest, jailing and detention of 12 Canadians in the Dominican Republic for eight months began with a seemingly harmless investigation.

“I am looking for charter services with your company. We have a few of our client groups coming from the United States and Dubai next week… to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic,” the company wrote in a statement. January email to Pivot Airlines, a Toronto-based charter company.

The email was sent by John Strudwick, the chief financial officer of the purported real estate investment firm Trust Capital.

There were no immediate red flags – there was a company logo, a working phone number, and even an office address in downtown Toronto.

Pivot Airlines chief executive Eric Edmondson has been told the company has been buying apartment buildings and turning them into condos.

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Edmondson said. “We were led to believe that they were potential investors in one of the projects they were considering doing in Alberta.”

Edmondson said they carried out “initial due diligence” on the venture – ensuring the funds came from a Canadian bank – before giving the go-ahead.

Over a period of approximately two months, Trust Capital paid for two charters in the Dominican Republic.

But as W5 discovered, the trips weren’t real estate projects and Trust Capital wasn’t what it seemed.

It was on that second trip in April that the Pivot Airlines crew discovered more than 200 kilograms of cocaine, worth approximately $25 million, in the plane’s avionics bay as it was about to take off from Punta Cana International Airport for Toronto.


W5 began digging into Trust Capital to understand its connection to drugs and the sequence of events that led to the detention of the 12 Canadians in the Dominican Republic.

Initially, every lead seemed to come to a dead end.

Searches of Canadian company records were unsuccessful. The chief financial officer, John Strudwick, did not seem to exist. There were no tenants named Trust Capital in this Toronto office tower. The phone number had been disconnected and emails to the company bounced back.

Pivot Airlines: W5 Exposes Company Funding Flight Caught With Cocaine

But then W5 began looking into Trust Capital’s financial dealings with Pivot Airlines.

Between February and April, the company paid nearly $200,000 for two charter flights with Pivot Airlines via wire transfers and checks.

A one-time check for $49,212.50 offered a clue: a location.

It showed that some of the money came from ATB Financial in Edmonton.

Pivot Airlines: W5 Exposes Company Funding Flight Caught With Cocaine

Then a breakthrough: multiple wire transfers showed that about $150,000 had been sent to Pivot through a numbered company in British Columbia. A search of company records revealed that the director of this company was Edmonton resident Vick Mander.

Mander, according to his LinkedIn profile, was a real estate consultant in Edmonton. In 2019 he was interviewed by CTV News Edmonton – speaking on behalf of his family after his father – a taxi driver – was allegedly beaten by a passenger.

w5, vikman

W5 called him but he hung up. So we traveled to Edmonton to ask him in person why about $150,000 in wire transfers had been made through his numbered company to Pivot Airlines.

He did not answer questions, saying only that he had “a few meetings to do”, before leaving.

Shortly after, Mander’s Linkedin account disappeared.


Following the arrest of the crew and passengers in the Dominican Republic, Trust Capital continued correspondence with Pivot Airlines personnel.

“We need a legal one there ASAP,” Strudwick said in an email the day after everyone was arrested. “If funds need to be sent there for a hold, I can send them, let me know.”

Pivot Airlines: W5 Exposes Company Funding Flight Caught With Cocaine

It’s still unclear who paid the passenger’s legal fees, but in the middle of this correspondence, there was a revelation that this bogus company allegedly had an employee on board the flight.

Pivot Airlines: W5 Exposes Company Funding Flight Caught With Cocaine

According to text messages, passenger Sheldon Poirier was supposed to be the head of residential developments for Edmonton and Calgary.

W5 did a background check on Poirier and found he had a conviction for possession for the purpose of trafficking in Alberta from 2020.

W5 then checked the backgrounds of the remaining passengers on the two flights chartered by Trust Capital – and found others with checkered pasts.

Pivot Airlines: W5 Exposes Company Funding Flight Caught With Cocaine

From the first robbery, Jordan Shay Castor had been convicted in Alberta of possession for the purpose of trafficking in 2018while Shaun Kocianic was sentenced for trafficking in a controlled substance in 2019.

Another passenger on the same flight, Andrew Linden, had possession for the purpose of trafficking charges remained in 2021.

Although he has no criminal record, the fourth passenger – Kash Briscoe – was on both the first and second flight.

A total of four of the 11 passengers on both flights had a history of drug use.

Pivot Airlines: W5 Exposes Company Funding Flight Caught With Cocaine

Criminal attorney Rahul Nanda, who has represented Poirier and Linden in other criminal cases in Edmonton – in addition to the passengers in the Dominican case – said he was unaware that none of the passengers were employees of Trust Capital.

He was quick to defend his customers saying they were only down for vacation.

Pivot Airlines: W5 Exposes Company Funding Flight Caught With CocaineCriminal lawyer Rahul Nanda (CTV W5)

“They don’t have a criminal record in Canada… They’re not drug dealers,” Nanda said. “Were there any text messages, a link to drug syndicates, any connection to any of these passengers who have previously been charged in Canada with drug trafficking offences? Nothing.”

Briscoe did not respond to W5’s requests for comment.

W5 tried to talk to Poirier several times through Nanda, but he refused. When he was approached outside a Dominican Republic courthouse in November, he covered his face and offered W5 only one thing: the finger.

Pivot Airlines: W5 Exposes Company Funding Flight Caught With CocaineSheldon Poirier when he was approached outside a Dominican Republic courthouse in November (CTV W5)

It should be noted that there was an eighth passenger on the Pivot flight to Punta Cana – Khaled Rahime – who ended up flying back to Canada early.

While there were questions about his sudden departure days before the drug was discovered, the Edmonton resident told W5 he left because he ‘hated’ the Dominican Republic.

“I left early because I wanted to go. It had nothing to do with what was going to happen or had happened,” Rahime said. “Absolutely seemed suspicious but I guess, you know, I’m touched by an angel.

He claims he did not know who arranged or paid for the trip or anything about Trust Capital.


Nearly eight months after the bust – and days after W5 traveled to the Dominican Republic to investigate – the case against the crew and passengers was suddenly dropped for lack of evidence to proceed.

The crew and passengers returned to Canada in early December.

Pivot Airlines: W5 Exposes Company Funding Flight Caught With CocainePivot Airlines crew members (left to right) Alex Rozov, BK Dubey, Rob DiVenanzo and Aatif Safdar celebrate their return to Canada at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario on December 1, 2022, after being trapped in the Dominican Republic for almost eight months. (Eric Szeto/CTV W5)

But several months before their return, Pivot Airlines had turned over all the information it had about Trust Capital and its suspicious activities to the RCMP.

“In the beginning… We gave [RCMP] all the information we had…including all two-way communications,” Pivot CEO Edmondson said. “We believe there was wire fraud. We believe there has been general fraud…we trust the RCMP. investigation. »

However, it is unclear what the RCMP has done since.

W5 asked the RCMP if they were investigating. The RCMP responded in a statement that “the RCMP does not confirm, deny or disclose information relating to ongoing investigations.”

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