It may seem bizarre to put the words “Mennonites” and “Drugs” in the same sentence, but for years some members of the God-fearing religious community has been smuggling narcotics from Mexico into the United States and Canada.
It started with a patriarch named Abe Harms, who fled Ontario after being busted for marijuana smuggling and set up a drug-running operation in Mexico.
But when his son Enrique took over the family crime business, they graduated to moving massive amounts of cocaine across the border. That caught the eye of American drug investigators. U.S. authorities carried out large-scale undercover operations and drug busts — and now Enrique is a man on the run.
Bob McKeown investigates the strange and sinister dealings of The Mennonite Connection.
Fugitives in the family: Son of accused Canadian Mennonite pot smuggler wanted on U.S. drug charges
Like father, like son.
Twenty-eight years ago, a Mennonite farmer from Leamington, Ont., named Abraham Harms fled to Cuauhtemoc, Mexico, as a fugitive after being charged by police for smuggling marijuana from Mexico into Canada.
Now, his son Enrique is indicted on charges of trafficking thousands of kilograms of drugs in the U.S. and is a fugitive himself — this time from American law.
More than two decades earlier, he had been jailed in Mexico for smuggling marijuana in his truck, claiming at the time he was set up by his father.
A report on the fifth estate revisits the documentary program’s report from 1992 that examined the Harms family and drug smuggling by individuals within the Canadian Mennonite community.
It’s suspected Enrique Harms operates under the protection of none other than Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel in Mexico because it took control of most of the drug trade along the U.S.-Mexico border around El Paso, Texas, after the death of the main leader of the Juarez Cartel in 1997.
“Those border points are gateways and cartels control the gateways,” says Ryan Cortez, an undercover drug agent in Oklahoma.
“And they’re very territorial. So did [Enrique Harms] have a connection to a cartel? With those amounts, he had to.”
Canadian and American authorities are concerned about a drug-smuggling route that has sprung up between Chihuahua in northern Mexico and the province of Alberta in Canada.
Upcoming court cases in Canada
American authorities have been concerned for several years about Mennonites bringing Mexican cartel drugs into Canada. The most recent court cases in Canada have been in Ontario.
Franz Klassen and his cousin Abraham Klassen were both sentenced in a Simcoe, Ont., courtroom in 2016 to six years in prison for smuggling cocaine into Canada.
- Mennonite ties to Mexican drug cartels years in the making
- How a Mennonite trucker was caught smuggling cocaine
Another pair of men, Jacob Dyck and Abram Klassen, are expected in court next month in Lethbridge, Alta., on charges of importing cocaine at the border crossing at Coutts, Atla.
Dyck and Klassen’s trial is expected to begin in Calgary on March 31.
The original Mennonite drug smuggler
The first Mennonite ever to be arrested, and subsequently convicted, for cross border drug trafficking, according to American authorities, was one of Harms’s mules — a Manitoba farmer named Cornelius Banman in 1989.
Harms had a nearly perfect front. He used farmhouses in southwestern Ontario to stash drugs and money and recruited Mennonites like Banman to move his drugs, according to Canadian and U.S. authorities.
In 1989, Harms was arrested in an undercover investigation in Ontario.
Once he was released on bail by the Leamington Police Services, he fled immediately to Cuauhtemoc, a town in the state of Chihuahua.
fifth estate co-host Hana Gartner tracked him down there in the 1992 documentary and that interview will be rebroadcast in tonight’s episode, “The Mennonite Connection.”
Two years later, while still a fugitive from the law in Canada, Harms died in a car crash in Mexico.
Some speculate that his son, Enrique, may have had a hand in that accident, although that has never been proven.
“One doesn’t know a family’s problems. But if money, drugs, that could play into it, it’s a possibility,” says Cortez.
After his death, Abraham Harms’s career as a suspected smuggler was immortalized in a ballad by a local Mexican band — Banda Joven.
The lyrics for “El Corrido de Abraham” say:
I’m tired of being poor,
Abraham said to his sons.
I’m going to the U.S.
To sell a few kilos…
God took Abraham away
But his sons remained.
Arrest in Canada
Enrique Harms has only been arrested once in Canada — for minor charges — by a Leamington Police Services officer in the 1990s. He was fingerprinted, photographed and then released.
Since then he has been indicted at least three times in the U.S. for smuggling drugs — most recently in Colorado in 2013.
That indictment for trafficking marijuana came after the Drug Enforcement Agency seized 1,000 kilograms of pot bound for a Mennonite operation in Calgary.
In an interview with former Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Quinones, the Leamington Police Services officer who arrested Abraham Harms in 1989 and Enrique Harms a few years after that said: “What I’ve seen in 1988 is that it went from a guy selling a couple of hundred pounds of marijuana to guys who sell hundreds of thousands of kilos of marijuana and cocaine all over the United States and Canada.
“[Abraham and Enrique Harms] are the inventors of the Mennonite mob. That’s the original family. They’re involved in homicides and everything else.”
The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics says that one of their informants, Abraham Wiebe, was ordered kidnapped by Enrique Harms and tortured for two weeks in Mexico before being dumped in a lake in 1999. His body has never been found.
Wiebe’s widow said she left her Mennonite faith as a result and has since remarried and moved to another state with their children.
Cortez said arresting Enrique Harms would give him “closure” on the death of Abraham Wiebe.
“He lost his life helping us. That’s just as black and white as I can put it,” Cortez told fifth estate host Bob McKeown in February.
Ronnie Jackson, the former Thomas, Okla., police chief who introduced Wiebe to Cortez, says all these years later the case still haunts him.
“The story of [Wiebe] being kidnapped and tortured, it weighs,” he said, his words trailing off.
“I haven’t had any issues with it lately but there’s times I’ve woken up seeing it in a dream,” he said in a telephone interview from Arizona.
Jackson said another informant told the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics that Wiebe “was castrated, electrocuted and dumped in a lake somewhere in Mexico.”
Enrique Harms is said to have at least four brothers and one sister.
His brother John carved out a career as a film actor, producing and starring in several Mexican movies about drug lords.
Details are not known on what became of the other siblings or their mother.
A police source in Canada says that he suspects Enrique and his brothers still go back and forth between Wheatley, near Leamington, and Cuauhtemoc to this day, using fake ID, because of family ties in Ontario.
Enrique Harms’s current location is unknown, although American authorities say they suspect he still lives in Cuauhtemoc.