Man charged in $4 million drug seizure appears in Jasper court
by Evan Matthews | firstname.lastname@example.org
An Edmonton man facing trafficking charges after a $4 million drug seizure last year near Jasper appeared in court last week and challenged the grounds of the search that landed him in police custody.
Jimmy Laforge is facing up to 15 charges of possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking. These charges have not been proven in court.
On Oct. 10, 2016, Jasper RCMP pulled over Laforge during a routine traffic stop, but subsequently found 120 kilograms — roughly 355,000 pills — of (anabolic) steroids and pharmaceutical powders, which included Viagra, Levitra and Cialis.
However a voir dire on the grounds of the search performed by RCMP Const. Joe Brault that day dominated his appearance in Jasper court on Oct. 26.
The Crown asked that Const. Brault be considered an expert witness of sorts owing to his significant police and military special forces training related to narcotics enforcement in the US and Canada, including the “pipeline” program in Reno, NV.
Const. Brault said has stopped more than 10,000 vehicles throughout in his career. He has been stationed in Jasper since April 2015.
He testified where most RCMP drug enforcement lead investigators average 15 major trafficking cases at any given time, he has about 100 open right now. The amounts involved range from one gram to 150 pounds of illicit substances.
Laforge’s case would land on the high end of that range, according to the picture of Oct. 10 painted by police testimony.
On the day in question, Const. Brault observed Laforge’s Black Dodge pickup travelling eastbound toward Edmonton. Const. Brault said he noticed a large crack in the windshield, and no mud flaps. Both are driving infractions.
Const. Brault testified Laforge didn’t look in the direction of RCMP, whereas most people will either look, smile or wave. Const. Brault “went after” Laforge right away, though the officer noted Laforge was not driving erratically.
The stop occurred two kilometres west of Jasper on Highway 16.
“I approached the driver side, and he was already breathing heavily, which is an indication of either distress or nervousness,” Const. Brault testified.
“I asked him if he was okay or if I was making him nervous, and he said he was ‘uncomfortable being stopped by police,’ which (Laforge) followed up with a nervous laugh,” said Const. Brault, adding he noticed dirt on Laforge’s vehicle from the drive, but fresh fingerprints on the box indicated recent access.
“I’ve seen it before. It could be nothing, but it’s a huge area and it’s a void I couldn’t see,” he said.
The Dodge Ram’s windows were tinted, but Const. Brault testified he looked in the back portion of the cab and didn’t see any luggage.
Const. Brault asked for Laforge’s documents, while asking him a few questions about his trip and destinations.
Laforge said he had driven from Edmonton to McBride, B.C., and was headed back to the capital after visiting his girlfriend. But Const. Brault said it struck him as odd that someone would travel such a long distance to see someone for such a short time.
“In my experience, short visits are a red flag for contraband,” he testified.
Highway 16 acts as the main corridor through Northern B.C. into Alberta with Prince Rupert as the main port of entry for contraband in northern British Columbia.
“When he said he was coming from McBride to Edmonton, that’s when I noticed there was more than one air freshener (around the rearview mirror), too,” Const. Brault testified.
Extra air fresheners, fast food wrappers and lone male occupants are indicators of possible drug shipments for police.
“75 per cent of my (drug trafficking) files are lone males in a vehicle,” said Const. Brault.
Once Const. Brault returned to his cruiser with Laforge’s documents he queried his identity with a police database and found Laforge to be flagged on a prohibition order of firearms.
“In my experience, guns are often synonymous with drugs,” said Const. Brault.
He found the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) issued Laforge’s prohibition order in 2001, but Laforge was also linked to a different EPS cocaine trafficking investigation in 2006.
The officer didn’t see a duffle bag on the floor of the truck initially and testified he found it “odd” Laforge was travelling without luggage. The defence pointed out the bag was found in a subsequent search.
Const. Brault testified it was taking too long for EPS to release more information. He decided he’d seen enough to justify a search of the vehicle, and called in the K-9 unit.
“I respect Mr. Laforge. I wouldn’t want him to be unlawfully detained,” said Const. Brault. “But I wasn’t comfortable letting him go in that moment.”
Const. Brault detained Laforge and placed him in the back of the RCMP vehicle. He said Laforge appeared to relax when he was in the back of the cruiser. He requested a lawyer, so the officers stopped asking him questions and focused on the search.
Roughly one hour and 20 minutes from the time of the original stop, Constable Todd Shule showed up with his K-9 partner, “Cole.”
“I deployed Cole around the vehicle for a free air sniff,” said Const. Shule.
“He worked past the tailgate and up the passenger side. When Cole got to the driver side he indicated the presence of a controlled substance toward the tailgate of the truck.”
The defence argued it’s possible for a dog to produce a false positive. Shule contended human error was involved with the only false positive Cole has produced in his career.
They found nine moving boxes of unidentified powder and pills in the box of the truck.
Const. Brault said he then read Laforge his arrest rights.
“There was no way the amount in the boxes was for one person,” said Const. Brault.
“We didn’t know if it was fentanyl. So we moved the vehicle to a secure location at the detachment to continue the search.”
At the detachment police found two cell phones in the vehicle’s middle console and gas receipts showing Laforge filled his tank the same morning in Edmonton and Jasper. Police believe that shows the trip to “see his girlfriend” wasn’t an overnighter.
Judge Myers is expected to make a ruling on the admissibility of the evidence on Feb. 8.