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Court upholds drug import convictions

September 22, 2016 9:21 A.M.


Appeals by three men convicted of importing almost 100 kilograms of cocaine into Kelowna in 2010 have been dismissed.

Clifford Montgomery, Salvador Ascencio-Chavez and Tariq Aslam were convicted of possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking and conspiracy to traffic in cocaine, while Montgomery and Ascencio-Chavez were also convicted of conspiracy to import cocaine back in August 2014.

Montgomery, a West Kelowna man, was given a 14-year sentence for orchestrating the importation of a large fruit grinder into Kelowna from Argentina in September 2010.

Customs officials in Vancouver found 97 kg of cocaine hidden in the machine upon inspection. The RCMP removed most of the cocaine, and replaced it with a similar looking white powder, as well as attaching audio recording equipment in the machine, before sending it on to its original destination, a storage facility in Kelowna.

A warrant for a wiretap of all the communications of people in close proximity to the machine was granted on Sept. 29.

On Oct. 1, Montgomery, Aslam and Ascencio-Chavez took the machine from the facility, using a trailer, and towed it to a rural property on Hwy. 97C called Aspen Hills Ranch.

Montgomery was eventually arrested on Oct. 4 and his house was searched by police. Aslam and Ascencio-Chavez were arrested nine days later in California, near the United States-Mexico border. The pair was sent back to Canada to stand trial.

Montgomery, Aslam and Ascencio-Chavez appealed their convictions, claiming the trial judge erred in upholding the validity of the wiretap and the search warrant of Montgomery's house, upholding the arrest of Montgomery, admitting evidence from Montgomery's BlackBerry phone and failing to declare a mistrial, among other claims of error.

“On this appeal, Mr. Ascencio, Mr. Montgomery, and Mr. Aslam challenge almost all of the rulings made during the trial that were decided against them,” wrote Justice David Frankel, in his appeaI decision. “In addition, they raise several issues in relation to the judge’s reasons for conviction. A number of the grounds are common to all three appeals. Collectively, the appellants raise 13 main grounds of appeal, several of which have multiple sub-grounds.”

Justice Frankel dismissed all claims of error by the appellants and upheld the original trial judge's findings, which were reached after an almost 70-day trial in 2014.

“The verdicts were reasonable and supported by the evidence,” Frankel wrote.

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