'Trafficking in death': Fort McMurray fentanyl dealer gets 5 1/2 years in prison

Paul Ohelo was sentenced to five-and-a-half years for trafficking fentanyl and three-and-a-half years for trafficking cocaine in Fort McMurray Wednesday.

‘Clearly the trafficking in fentanyl is the trafficking in death.'

Paul Ohelo walks into the Fort McMurray courthouse for sentencing on July 12. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Before he was sentenced to five-and-a-half years behind bars for trafficking fentanyl and cocaine, Paul Ohelo stood in a courtroom in Fort McMurray and apologized to his mother.

"I will take responsibility," Ohelo said Wednesday. "I am just sorry because of my mother."

Ohelo pleaded guilty in June to trafficking 1,006 fentanyl pills and 340 grams of cocaine between January and March 2015.

A Court of Queen's Bench judge sentenced Ohelo to five-and-a-half years in prison for trafficking fentanyl and three-and-a-half years for trafficking cocaine. The sentences will be served together.

Crown prosecutor Dennis Hrabcak said Ohelo was a minor player who was caught up in a larger drug operation.

"He was seen by the Crown at the low end of the operation," Hrabcak said. "Other ends of the operation would negotiate deals and Mr. Ohelo would deliver the drugs and pick up the proceeds and the proceeds were filtered upwards into the organization."

In June 2015, ALERT seized $1 million worth of drugs, including fentanyl, cocaine, marijuana and mushrooms in Fort McMurray. (CBC)

Ohelo also faced 12 other charges but they were withdrawn.

Two other men, whom the Crown alleges are the "bigger players", face 13 drug-trafficking charges and two organized-crime charges from the same brief time period in 2015.

'He deserves to be punished'

Ohelo's mother and five other siblings came to Canada after fleeing a brutal conflict in the Congo that killed his father.

His mother raised the family as a single parent. The Crown noted Ohelo had no previous criminal record and wasn't a drug abuser. However, he sold drugs to earn money.

Defence lawyer Leon Colwin read the court a letter written by Ohelo's mother. In it, she said she was "heartbroken" when she learned her son was trafficking drugs.

Ohelo wept while his lawyer read the letter.

His mother became overwhelmed by emotion. She fled the courtroom and collapsed outside, which prompted a brief adjournment. 

When the proceedings resumed ,Colwin said his client had accepted responsibility for his actions.

"You see what pain he caused his mother. He deserves to be punished," Colwin said. "[Ohelo] says, 'Punish me for my mother. I am going to go jail and serve my sentence.' "

Justice Kevin Feehan said Ohelo's minor role in the drug operation and his guilty plea reduced the punishment.

However, Feehan noted between 2014 and 2015, the number of deaths in Alberta related to fentanyl doubled from 120 to 257.

"Clearly the trafficking in fentanyl is the trafficking in death," Feehan said. 

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