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Judge balks at 'sympathetic image' presented of Burnaby drug dealer

Van Thuan Le, 59, was charged in a dial-a-dope operation after police searched his family's Burnaby home and found cocaine, heroin and morphine packaged for sale.
vancouver provincial court criminal

A 59-year-old Burnaby father of two who held cocaine, heroin and morphine in his family home for a dial-a-dope line was sentenced to a year of house arrest, a year of curfew and 100 hours of community service last week.

Van Thuan Le was charged with two counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking after a seven-month undercover operation by the Burnaby RCMP, according to information presented at a sentencing hearing in Vancouver provincial court Friday. 

Searches of Le's vehicle and his Napier Street home in June 2020 turned up a "significant" but "not large" quantity of hard drugs, Judge James Sutherland said in his sentencing decision.

Investigators found nearly $17,000 in cash, numerous cell phones, an electronic scale with methamphetamine residue, packaging materials and packaged cocaine, heroin and morphine with a street value of nearly $17,500, according to Sutherland.

"This was a dial-a-dope operation, and Mr. Le served a variety of functions," Sutherland said. "He was not merely on the edges of the operation; he was embedded in it."

The court was told Le had turned to drug dealing for "quick easy money" after being laid off as a crab fisherman in 2019 because of COVID-19.

He didn't regard trafficking as a "big risk" even though he had been convicted and served a one-year conditional sentence for it before, in 2002, according to a presentence report.

The report said Le justified his behaviour as a "means of survival" to support his family and tried to deflect responsibility.

Sutherland also noted the "sympathetic image" of Le presented in court strained belief.

The court was told Le works two jobs, six to seven days a week, often 17 hours a day; he drives his wife and kids around because his wife is too ill; he does the household chores, including the cooking and cleaning; he volunteers regularly at a Buddhist temple and Vancouver Harbour Light; and he has aspirations to attend Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops for eight weeks to upgrade his skills as a meat cutter.

"It doesn't add up, in my view, and it raises a concern that he's trying to create a sympathetic image that may not be accurate," Sutherland said. "To be candid, this has given me anxious deliberation and made me question where exactly he is in his rehabilitation."

In the end, however, Sutherland said he was satisfied Le was remorseful and has undergone a positive transformation "to a degree."

He also noted Le's guilty plea, the fact he hasn't re-offended since his arrest, his community and family support and the impact his sentence will have on his family.

The Crown had called for a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence in the case; while Le’s lawyer had argued a conditional sentence (a jail sentence served in the community) in the range of 18 months to two years and one year of probation was appropriate.

Sutherland ultimately imposed a two-year conditional sentence and one year of probation.

During the first year of his sentence, Le will be under house arrest.

During the second year, he will have a 10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew.

He must also finish 100 hours of community service within the first nine months of his sentence.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on X/Twitter @CorNaylor
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