Two of the 15 individuals charged in the Project Skylark province-wide drug bust last year are now done with the courts, one heading to the penitentiary and the other to serve a year of house arrest.
“This pandemic is really scary and I hope the court will take that into account,” said Brandon Tupling of Orleans, near Ottawa, just before receiving a six-year penitentiary sentence Monday in the Ontario Court of Justice in Sudbury. “I apologize for everything I have done in the community.”
On Aug. 26, Tupling, 34, pleaded guilty to cocaine possession for the purpose of trafficking, fentanyl possession for the purpose of trafficking, and procuring, also known as human trafficking.
Since Tupling received pre-custody credit of some 782 days (some of that figure taking into account custody during the COVID-19 pandemic), he has 1,408 days or three years and 313 days left to serve.
The sentence, along with a DNA order and 10-year weapons ban, had been suggested in a joint sentencing submission by defence lawyer Denis Michel and federal prosecutor Michael Jones of Ottawa.
“This is an entirely appropriate sentence,” said Justice Patrick Boucher. “These are very serious convictions and they warrant lengthy jail sentences.”
Boucher also agreed to a Crown request that a 2003 motorcycle seized by police be forfeited to the Crown.
Tupling, who had a prior record, had been facing 39 charges. As a result of Monday’s sentencing hearing, the Crown withdrew the other 36 charges.
The procuring charge concerned two women from April 5 to June 23, 2019.
Assistant Crown attorney Bailey Rudnick asked for and was granted a one-year concurrent (to run at the same time) sentence for Tupling on the procuring conviction.
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“There are significant reasons why the provincial Crown is not seeking a higher penalty in the case,” she said, in her sentencing submission. “There were triable issues such as non-supportive witnesses.”
Boucher ordered Tupling is to have no contact with the two women connected to the procuring conviction.
“Human trafficking is a crime that victimizes primarily young women and girls,” noted Rudnick.
Michel, in his sentencing submission, said the penitentiary term will be hard on Tupling, who hails from Nanaimo, B.C., as he has health issues including asthma and a problem knee that will need medical attention. He added the lengthy sentence will likely mean Tupling won’t get to say goodbye in person to both his father and an uncle who have serious medical issues.
The court heard the two drug convictions concerned Tupling making a series of drug sales to a police agent.
“He fully understands what he did was wrong and is prepared to do his time,” said Michel.
Jones said Tupling was selling serious drugs to unsuspecting users, but also acknowledged that Tupling was not the “top wheel” in the drug operation targetted by Operation Skylark.
David Nan, 23, of Levack, who was facing 15 charges, meanwhile, pleaded guilty back Aug. 26 to two of them: possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking and methamphetamine trafficking.
On Monday, Nan’s lawyer — who was also Michel — called for a conditional sentence (house arrest with strict conditions), pointing out that Nan had stayed out of trouble for more than a year and had no prior record.
Jones told the court an appropriate jail sentence for Nan would be one year, but took no position on Michel’s conditional sentence request.
Boucher went along with Michel’s suggestion, imposing a one-year conditional sentence along with a one-year probation order, DNA order and a 10-year weapons ban.
“It’s important to understand a conditional sentence is a jail sentence served in the community,” he told Nan. “It’s important to understand that … The community needs to know that with these types of offences, jail is in order and you need to know that jail is in order.”
Boucher said it was important the young man continue with his rehabilitation and said that support from Nan’s parents, who both attended court Monday, was an important consideration.
Nan will serve the conditional sentence at his father’s home, the first six months seeing him confined to the residence while the second will feature a curfew.
Nan is also to not possess or consume illegal drugs, not have any contact with seven co-accused individuals, and to take recommended assessment, counselling and programs. The probation order similar provisions.
“I just want to say that I know right from wrong and I know I was in the wrong,” Nan told Boucher just before learning of his sentence. “I can do better in life. I’m just hoping you can give me a second chance to be a respectful citizen.”
The court heard Monday the cocaine charge concerned 113 grams of cocaine.
Aaron (Joseph) Piccinetti, 42, of Greater Sudbury, meanwhile, was also scheduled to be sentenced Monday after having entered guilty pleas to some of his 14 charges on Aug. 26, but did not attend court due to a pending COVID-19 test.
Piccinetti’s lawyer, Terry Waltenbury, told the court he had received a message from his client about not feeling well, that he had been told by a doctor to self-isolate, and to get a COVID-19 swab test to determine whether the symptoms were as a result of the virus. That test, said the lawyer, was to occur Monday afternoon.
“If he is having a COVID test today, it is highly unlikely he would pass the screening test (at the courthouse) to attend in person,” commented Boucher.
The judge said that with Piccinetti heading into custody following the sentencing hearing, it was best to get the outcome of the COVID-19 test first before proceeding.
Boucher consequently sent the case to Ontario Court assignment court Dec. 9 to set a new sentencing date.
Jovin Degre-Blais, 35, of Ottawa, was to have entered guilty pleas and be sentenced Monday, but that did not happen.
“He is residing in Quebec with his surety,” defence lawyer George Fournier told the court. “I have had some discussions. He is having some reservations about what we discussed … moving forward. Now, I am confident the matter will be resolved.”
As a result, a date for pleas and sentencing will be set in Ontario Court assignment court Dec. 9.
Degre-Blais is facing seven charges, including two trafficking offences.
Keith Earle, 33, of Niagara Falls, entered guilty pleas to several of his 21 charges on Aug. 26 and will be sentenced Jan. 5.
Earle, along with Tupling, were both arrested in Greater Sudbury.
Jacob Aubrey, 34 of Greater Sudbury, is headed to a preliminary hearing on his Project Skylark charges in January. He was initially charged with 56 offences.
William John (Jesse) Hunter, 31, of Niagara Falls, is still in resolution discussions with the Crown, but could be headed to a preliminary hearing. He was initially charged with nine offences.
A sentencing date, meanwhile, could be set Dec. 9 for Joshua Khosrowkhani, a full-patched Hells Angels Nomad chapter member from Ottawa who pleaded guilty in late July to a cocaine charge arising from Project Skylark.
The court has heard that in the summer of 2018, Niagara Regional Police, Greater Sudbury Police and the Ontario Provincial Police started a joint investigation into a cocaine trafficking ring that operated across Ontario, including Greater Sudbury.
Dubbed Project Skylark, the initiative investigated members and associates of the Hells Angels Nomads, Red Devils Motorcycle Club and the Hooligans Motorcycle Club associated with the trafficking of cocaine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl in the Niagara Region, Sudbury and Ottawa.
Fifteen people, including six from Greater Sudbury, were subsequently arrested on Aug. 1, 2019.
Police in Sudbury seized about $420,000 worth of drugs, including methamphetamine, fentanyl, cocaine, and shatter. Five handguns, three long guns, and $50,000 in cash were also seized.