Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Player avoids prison sentence in drug-trafficking scheme

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Brent Sapergia spent plenty of time in the penalty box during a hockey career that took him across North America.

But the Manitoba-born Sapergia has managed to avoid a much more serious type of sentence -- prison -- for his role in a massive worldwide drug-trafficking ring.

Court records obtained by the Free Press show Sapergia, 50, was sentenced last month to two years of probation in exchange for pleading guilty in New York to unwittingly helping criminal masterminds ply their trade.

Sapergia admitted to "money transporting" as part of the deal, which includes agreeing to co-operate with federal justice officials in their ongoing prosecution of dozens of co-accused. The offence dates range from February to December 2010.

The charge reads Sapergia "together with others, did knowingly and intentionally conduct, control, manage, supervise, direct and own all and part of an unlicensed money transmitting business, which affected interstate and foreign commerce."

Sapergia admitted he worked for a U.S. transportation firm picking up packages from armoured cars and then delivering them across the country. He claims to have had no idea the packages contained millions of dollars netted through drug sales by the Albanian-based leaders of the drug cartel.

His probation conditions include abstaining from drugs and alcohol, reporting regularly to a probation officer and not owning any firearms. He is currently living in Arizona with his wife but is allowed to return to Canada.

Sapergia still has family in Manitoba, who declined to comment when contacted Thursday by the Free Press.

Sapergia did spend time in custody following his arrest but was released after posting a $500,000 bond, according to court records.

In the original criminal complaint, Sapergia was listed along with more than 50 co-accused. Many of the others charged went by unique nicknames.

The allegations speak to a broader conspiracy between 1999 and 2011, which prosecutors say netted more than $500 million in gross revenue. More than two-dozen homes and vehicles were seized as alleged proceeds of crime.

Sapergia played in the Western Hockey League for three seasons. He would continue chasing the pro dream over the next 15 seasons during stops in minor hockey leagues throughout North America. He could score -- seven seasons where he scored at least 30 goals -- and fight -- nine seasons where he topped 100 penalty minutes.

Sapergia hung up his blades in 1996 without ever playing a National Hockey League game.

He briefly tried his hand at coaching, making headlines around the world in November 2009 when he threw an epic tantrum while behind the bench of the Louisiana IceGators of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

The video of his tirade when viral, showing Sapergia tossing a Gatorade bucket, medical kit and several hockey sticks on the ice to protest what he felt was poor officiating against his team.

The league responded by banning Sapergia indefinitely. It would be his final stop in hockey.

A short time later, Sapergia landed the transportation job that court was told seemed too good to be true -- and clearly was.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2013 A13

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