The B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the convictions of two men in connection with a massive, cross-border cocaine conspiracy – one of those men is from Langley.
A B.C. Supreme Court jury found Jeremy Albert Stark, of Langley, and Christopher Lloyd Mehan, of Burnaby, guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine from Los Angeles to B.C. in commercial transport trucks in 2008.
They were convicted last April, and sentenced last August by Justice Ian Bruce Josephson.
Stark was also convicted of conspiracy to traffic in cocaine. He received a 13-year jail term.
Meanwhile, Mehan was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In a ruling released Monday, a three-judge panel of the B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed the men’s appeals.
At the time of sentencing, Josephson said both men were cocaine importers “at the wholesale level,” with connections to buyers and transportation networks in Canada.
He noted that Stark was a directing mind of the cross-border operation, along with American Lionel Alvarez, who was convicted earlier in California and sentenced to almost 16 years.
The B.C. men were snared in the investigation that was started in 2008 by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles.
“Using a confidential informant, the DEA were successful in distributing encrypted BlackBerry devices to members of an illicit drug organization,” Josephson said. “Some of the BlackBerry devices were successfully distributed to persons in Canada who were suspected of purchasing cocaine from Mr. Alvarez and importing the drug into Canada.”
The BlackBerrys used a server that was inside a DEA office, allowing agents to read all the messages as they were sent between drug gang members.
U.S. agents sent information to the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit in B.C. “There was an extensive investigation of these activities on both sides of the border.”
The coordinated effort led to two large seizures of cocaine at the Pacific border crossing in December 2008.
The first was 121 kilograms – 65 of which “were brokered by Mr. Stark from Mr. Alvarez,” Josephson said.
“The second seizure was of 97 kilograms of cocaine at the border on December 24, 2008, in a shipment of bananas being carried by a commercial transport vehicle. Mr. Stark arranged the purchase and acquisition of the cocaine in Los Angeles, while Mr. Mehan organized its transportation from Los Angeles to Canada.”
After the U.S. investigation ended in 2009, the server was “physically moved to British Columbia to allow the CFSEU to continue the investigation on the Canadian side of the border,” Josephson said.
CFSEU announced the charges against Mehan and Stark, as well as four others on Aug. 31, 2012.
CFSEU media officer Sgt. Lindsey Houghton said the agency was “very pleased” with the tough sentences.
“These sentences are substantial and should not only hopefully serve as a warning but also as a deterrent,” Houghton said.
Josephson said both men “were motivated by profit and greed,” and that the operation involved “considerable planning.”
“Although perhaps a last resort, both Mr. Mehan and Mr. Stark were willing to resort to violence to recoup losses after the cocaine shipments were intercepted by authorities at the Canadian border.”– Kim Bolan writes for the Vancouver Sun