Calgary

Charges dropped against trio accused in $4.5M cocaine trafficking case

Three men who faced a dozen drug trafficking charges involving 45 kilograms of cocaine have been let off the hook because it took too long for their case to get to trial. The decision comes after the Supreme Court of Canada clarified its intentions regarding unreasonable delay.

Trial judge says Supreme Court's 2nd decision on unreasonable trial delay provided 'clear roadmap'

A joint investigation between US and Canadian authorities resulted in a dozen cocaine trafficking-related charges being laid against Christopher Scher, Michael Janecek, and Steven Doporto. Those charges were stayed by a Calgary judge on Thursday because of the unreasonable delay between the trio being charged and tried. (Nevada Highway Patrol)

Three men accused of trafficking 45 kilograms of cocaine worth $4.5 million dollars have been let off the hook because it took too long for their case to get to trial, a Calgary judge has ruled after the Supreme Court of Canada clarified its intentions last week regarding the rules of unreasonable delay.

Christopher Scher, Michael Janecek and Steven Doporto were arrested in January 2014 and each faced charges of conspiracy to import cocaine, conspiracy to traffic cocaine, trafficking cocaine and possession for the purpose of trafficking.

The 15-month investigation began in 2012 when the Nevada Highway Patrol arrested Austin William Hill — who would later receive a plea deal — during a traffic stop and discovered the cocaine that had been packaged in 63 vacuum-sealed bundles in a hidden compartment under the bed of a pickup truck. 

Investigators with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) determined the drugs were destined for Calgary and the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) became involved.

'Clear roadmap' given by high court

Two weeks ago, Court of Queen's Bench Justice B.A. Millar denied defence lawyers' application seeking to have the charges thrown out because of the 42 month delay between charge and trial.

Last year, the Supreme Court issued its Jordan decision which imposed strict timelines on the acceptable delay between charge and trial; 18-months in lower court, and 30 months for a Superior Court case.

Those ceilings imposed by the high court last year are designed to uphold an accused person's charter right to a timely trial.

The Supreme Court's "Cody" decision released last Friday, doubled-down on the principles of its Jordan ruling last year, upholding an accused drug dealer's bid to have his case thrown out because he had to wait five years for a five-day trial.

In light of the Cody decision, defence lawyers Hersh Wolch, Jim Lutz and Kim Ross again re-argued the issue of unreasonable delay on Wednesday. 

On Thursday Millar agreed with the defence lawyers, said he'd been given a "clear roadmap" by the Supreme Court and stayed the charges against the three men.

"The Crown is currently reviewing both [of] Justice Millar's decisions … before a decision is made on how next to proceed," said prosecutor Frank Polak in a written statement.

Trio believed to be 'major cocaine distributors'

Hill was also charged at the time but flipped on his former associates and made a plea deal with the Crown in exchange for his testimony. 

Instead of a six- to 20-year prison sentence, an American judge handed Hill five years of probation for his "substantial assistance" to Canadian and American authorities.

At the time of their arrest, ALERT claimed Scher, Janecek and Doporto were the heads of a drug-trafficking operation. 

"The trio was believed to be major cocaine distributors in Southern Alberta and routinely used couriers to import cocaine from the southern United States," said ALERT in its January 2014 release.

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