Travel pattern key in drug case: court

Numerous flights all booked at last minute

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An appeals court decision has revealed insight into one of the methods alleged drug traffickers use to courier large quantities of illicit substances into Winnipeg: one-way commercial airline flights.

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An appeals court decision has revealed insight into one of the methods alleged drug traffickers use to courier large quantities of illicit substances into Winnipeg: one-way commercial airline flights.

In the case of Kerron Blair Cornel McLean, who was recently convicted in provincial court of two counts of possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking, the Crown argued he was acting as a courier for a Winnipeg drug network (with an arm in Vancouver) when he was caught in 2019 flying with 220 grams of powerful, synthetic opioid fentanyl and a 981-gram brick of cocaine.

In a judgement delivered June 30, Manitoba Court of Appeal Judge Christopher J. Mainella upheld McLean’s conviction, but knocked down his time in prison for the fentanyl charge to nine years from 12, viewing the initial sentence as demonstrably unfit based on the applicable sentencing range and circumstances.

In a judgement delivered June 30, a Manitoba Court of Appeal judge knocked down Kerron Blair Cornel McLean’s time in prison for the fentanyl charge to nine years from 12, viewing the initial sentence as demonstrably unfit based on the applicable sentencing range and circumstances. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

He upheld the six years for cocaine trafficking. The two sentences will be served concurrently.

McLean had challenged a police search of his luggage and the trial judge’s assessment of his credibility in a hearing in January.

He argued at trial the drugs found in his suitcase were planted without his knowledge, and the reason he often travelled by air was his work as a music engineer. Police had established he regularly travelled by plane despite being on social assistance, based on airline and financial records.

In the initial trial, the Crown’s evidence showed McLean made eight trips between Winnipeg and Vancouver and four trips between Toronto and Vancouver, including one stopover in Winnipeg, from November 2018 to February 2019.

Mainella wrote all of the trips were booked last minute, with each leg being a one-way ticket. McLean always paid in cash or by prepaid credit cards and each trip lasted 24 hours or less, but despite the short duration, he always paid extra to check luggage.

A drug expert testified that kind of travel pattern indicates possible “interprovincial transportation of illicit drugs,” Mainella wrote.

The investigation began in December 2018, with police targeting a suspected Winnipeg drug network believed to be supplied by a Vancouver man (identified as Mr. M in Mainella’s decision).

Investigators had identified McLean, a Vancouver resident, as the suspected courier. McLean testified he worked for Mr. M in the music industry, and the drugs he was caught with were planted.

The Crown argued McLean’s evidence of working in the music industry as the reason for his frequent travel made “no sense.”

In February 2019, after arriving in Winnipeg, McLean met with Mr. M in a hotel room, in which hotel staff found apparent drugs, cash and a scale, the information to obtain document established.

In March, police obtained a warrant to covertly search McLean’s checked luggage on future air travel to Manitoba’s capital.

On April 5, McLean booked a same-day Air Canada flight to Winnipeg from Vancouver. When the plane touched down late that evening, investigators sifted through his suitcase after it was unloaded from the aircraft but before it was taken to the luggage carousel.

They found drugs inside — together worth some $70,000 — but let McLean pick up his bag, then arrested him as he tried to leave the airport.

An information to obtain document established Mr. M was regularly sending large amounts of drugs to Winnipeg from Vancouver, and sophisticated dealers often use couriers to transport the illicit substances from one place to another, Mainella noted.

That document noted the accused had a suspicious travel pattern and the two Vancouver men were in Winnipeg at the same time three different times in the three months leading up to McLean’s arrest, with police using car rental company records to establish that fact.

erik.pindera@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @erik_pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera
Reporter

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.

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