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Jail B.C. cocaine, heroin trafficker 2.5 years, judge told

Van Thuan Le wanted "to make quick, easy and significant money" after losing his job in the COVD-19 pandemic's early days.
Defence lawyer said the man's motive "was not greed."

A laid-off B.C. crab fisherman who turned to trafficking heroin and cocaine in the COVID-19 pandemic’s early days should go to jail for 2.5 years, a Vancouver Provincial Court judge heard Feb. 26.

On Oct. 5, Van Thuan Le, 59, pleaded guilty to one charge of unlawful possession of heroin and morphine and one of cocaine for the purposes of trafficking in Burnaby in connection with June 2020 incidents.

Crown prosecutor Heather Pineo told Judge James Sutherland Le had turned to trafficking despite having an earlier conviction for trafficking marijuana.

However, said defence lawyer Aya Tubinshlak, Le had turned to drug trafficking out of desperation to support his family after losing his job.

“Many people experienced that but didn’t turn to selling drugs,” Pineo countered.

Pineo told Sutherland the charges came after an undercover police sting where Le and others were under surveillance in what turned out to be a dial-a-dope operation.

The charges were sworn on June 15, 2021.

The court heard Le was not a street-level dealer but had been seen making what appeared to be deliveries. He was a mid-level-person in the operation, said Pineo.

She said when Le’s home was raided, police found 148 grams of cocaine, 14.97 grams of heroin and $16,402 in cash. Also found were multiple cellphones, scales and baggies. Drugs were bagged for sale, Pineo said, noting the operation was run from the living room of the house, also home to Le’s 14- and four-year-old children.

Sutherland heard Le’s house had the main phone line through which calls were referred to cell numbers in the dial-a-dope operation. Pineo said calls were going through the main line all day line with police recording upwards of 10,000 calls or texts in one period.

People Le had been meeting with were selling to undercover police officers.

It was through targeting a vehicle involved that police managed to get the main line, the court heard.

Pineo said Le’s blameworthiness was high, noting he had told a pre-sentence report writer that he wanted “to make quick, easy and significant money.”

Tubinshlak suggested an 18-month conditional sentence with house arrest and counselling and other conditions in order not to impact Le’s family.

In addressing Le’s reason for turning to trafficking after losing his job, Tubinshlak suggested Sutherland consider the difference between greed and desperation to understand Le’s situation.

“The motive was not greed,” she said.

While he was not a street-level dealer, Tubinshlak said, Le was not a manager of the operation either.

“He lacked the understanding of the seriousness of this,” the defence lawyer added. “He did not have the proper tools to deal with the stress he was experiencing.”

She said he now juggles two jobs to support his family.

Sutherland asked the lawyers to arrange a date for passing of sentence after March 4.