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International kidnapping of New York couple stems from Burlington drug bust

Published: Oct. 2, 2020 at 7:27 PM EDT
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MOIRA, N.Y. (WCAX) - The kidnapping of a Franklin County, New York, couple last weekend stems from a South Burlington drug bust involving their grandson and a ransom by international drug traffickers, authorities say.

An affidavit in federal court from a DEA agent says as part of an ongoing investigation, they were made aware of a drug deal that was scheduled for September 20th at the Doubletree Hotel in South Burlington. Agents watched a rented van travel from the Best Western Hotel in South Burlington to the Doubletree. Investigators say inside was Mackenzie Helm, the grandson of James and Sandra Helm, the Moira couple kidnapped last week.

DEA agents say they saw Helm meet an SUV and that the driver allegedly handed over a duffel bag. The agents moved in and arrested Helm and his mother, and his mother, Michelle Helm. Police say the contents of the duffel bag was tested and they found it contained 500 grams of cocaine with an estimated value of $2.2 million.

The arrest wasn’t publicized, so when the drugs never made it to their destination, international drug traffickers assumed Helm kept the stash and went after his grandparents for ransom.

Vincent Larouche, a 15-year veteran investigative report for La Presse first broke the story on what happened in the kidnapping using his extensive sources within law enforcement.

“We don’t know if this family -- his mother and her son -- we don’t know if they were the ones that were supposed to cross. Maybe they were supposed to drive it for some part of the trip and then give it to another person who would trust and give it to some local associates in Canada. We don’t know up to what point they were supposed to go with the drugs, but they certainly had their part to play in a small part of the drug trip,” Larouche said. “They [the DEA] were not ready yet to publicize the fact that they were on to them, that they seized this amount of cocaine.”

Larouche says the abduction of Helm’s grandparents was highly unusual. “Many people were surprised, I think, at first because this couple that was abducted from Moira, they were really innocent people that had gotten into trouble with any criminal elements or organized crime or anything,” Larouche said.

Federal authorities say Graigory Brown of Plattsburgh and four others entered James and Sandra Helm’s home on September 27th and kidnapped them. They were taken to the nearby Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation, where they were taken to Canada by boat via the St. Lawrence River.

“The reservation is really the key element here,” said Larouche. "One of the individuals that were arrested is from Akwesasne. He is linked to some pretty high-profile traffickers that reside over there. "

Larouche says that the Akwesasne Mohawk Police played a big role in this case too, using their knowledge of the reservation and how to cross the border without being detected. He says from there, investigators followed tracks to the home in Magog where police rescued the couple Tuesday, as their kidnappers were attempting to move them.

LaRouche says Kidnapping isn’t common in Quebec when it comes to drug trafficking but he has seen it before. "They usually refrain from kidnapping people, especially kidnapping innocent people that were not involved in criminal activities because it brings so much heat and so much pressure from Law Enforcement. "

Larouche says this is just the start. His law enforcement sources say this is a very big drug trafficking organization and the only reason the DEA is releasing information about the arrests of Mackenzie and Michelle Helm is because of the kidnapping of James and Sandra Helm.

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