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Mexican gets 13 years for smuggling drugs into B.C.

The West Kelowna man busted trying to brazenly import nearly 100 kilograms of cocaine into B.C. through a fruit grinding machine may be facing more than a decade behind bars.

Justice Alison Beames found Clifford Roger Montgomery, 37, guilty of possession for the purpose of trafficking, conspiracy to import cocaine and  conspiracy to traffic for the 2010 offence.

Convicted of the same charges was Salvador Ascencio Chavez, 47, from Mexico, who at the time of the crime operated under the alias Victor Perez Rodriguez.

Tariq Mohammed Aslam, 36, of Surrey, B.C. was convicted of possession and the intent to traffic, but found not guilty of  conspiring to import drugs. Montgomery and Aslam won’t be sentenced until next month, but Chavez was sentenced to 13 years after the verdict was rendered.

It was a significantly lesser sentence than what Crown Counsel Neil Cobb asked for. He’d argued for a prison term of two decades long, less time served.

“One cannot deny that the scale and scope of this offence contributes to the (problems) facing every community in Canada,” Cobb told the court.

By trying to unleash 97 kilograms of cocaine on Canadians, Chavez directly “contributed to the social ills and miseries that are an unfortunate reality of Canadian society,” he added.

Defence lawyer Karen Molle argued for a sentence in the area of eight to 12 years, in comparison noting that Chavez isn’t a career criminal. Rather, he’s an architect and a family man, she said.

It’s unclear what Crown will request for Montgomery, but he was convicted on the same charges as Chavez.

This week’s proceedings marked the final stages of a legal process that’s been in the works for nearly four years.

The failed drug smuggling scheme first came to the attention of RCMP in September 2010, when an enormous piece of farm equipment of dubious working order arrived at the Canadian border, by way of Argentina then Miami.

The Canadian border officer was working in the cargo area at Vancouver Airport in 2010 when she received a list of the goods entering Canada that day. A heavy fruit-grinder from the south of South America was considered unusual, so she requested a secondary inspection.

On Sept. 22, they used a tiny video camera to look within the grinder and discovered the cocaine. Inside the 2,300-kilogram  machine, Montgomery and Chavez had concealed 97.5 kilograms of cocaine, which had an estimated street value  somewhere in the area of  $3.5-million and $3.9-million, the court heard Wednesday.

The aim of the men was to spread it out between  Vancouver and the Okanagan. From there, the authorities subbed in a fake substance for the cocaine, and acted out an elaborate plan to follow the grinder to its owners and watch them along the way.

The three men were seen in various ways doing everything from picking up the grinder to transporting it to a location in Merritt to remove the drugs. At the grinder’s final location, audio equipment picked up conversations that indicated that they knew what they were looking for and what they would do with it once they figured out how to extract it from the machine.

What the trio didn’t account for, however, was the violet dye that the police had set inside to mark those who handled the product inside. It left splatters everywhere, and the men tracked it into their homes on their clothes and it stained their hands. Evidence of the dye was visible at the time of their arrest.

On Oct. 4, 2010,  Montgomery was arrested at his West Kelowna home. Warrants were issued for Chavez and Aslam who were arrested a week later in California.

Montgomery, father of two, is out on bail currently being treated for a tumour on his spine.  He’s scheduled for a medical procedure before his sentencing.

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