May 04, 2016 - 10:30 AM
VERNON - A Vernon man has been found guilty for his part in a drug trafficking operation which saw large shipments of cocaine transported into Canada from California.
Ronald Charles Learning was a courier in the trafficking scheme, which was busted in 2011 following a lengthy police investigation known as ‘Project Faril'. The operation, which involved cocaine and ecstasy being moved across the Montana-Saskatchewan border was the largest drug bust in Saskatchewan’s history and resulted in multiple arrests.
In a written decision handed down April 14 in Regina Provincial Court, Judge Marylynne Beaton said Learning was stopped by police in Salmon Arm Oct. 1, 2011. He was driving a van loaded with 30 kilograms of sham cocaine hidden in secret compartments. Police swapped the real drugs with a substitute and a tracking device earlier in the investigation.
If it was real, the cocaine would have had a value of between $1.2 million and $2.3 million dollars, Beaton said.
One of the men involved in the scheme had already been caught by American border officials on April 28, 2011, and became a police agent. The man, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, said he didn’t know Learning before the drug meet in October 2011. It is unclear whether Learning was a one-time courier, or more heavily involved in the operation.
Police surveilled the courier’s vehicle as it travelled to the meet location at an abandoned farmyard just north of the border, where the sham cocaine was exchanged for packages of pills and $10,000 cash, and then to Salmon Arm where it was stopped at a red light and swarmed by officers.
In court, the police agent testified Learning was the same person with whom he exchanged drugs during the meet in Saskatchewan. Learning’s defence lawyer said police did not have the van under constant surveillance and argued the Crown did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt Learning knew the cocaine was in the van. But the judge ruled all the evidence pointed to a guilty verdict.
“Based on the conversation which he had with the agent and the manner in which the cocaine was concealed, the accused was well aware that he was receiving illicit drugs to transport to British Columbia. He was also prepared for this task as he possessed numerous cell phones, had the tools required to open the hidden compartments, and had energy drinks to keep him awake during his trip,” Beaton said.
Learning is scheduled to return to Regina court June 13 for sentencing on possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking.
He also faces a number of weapons-related charges in Vernon Provincial Court in connection with an inter-agency investigation in January 2015. Canada Border Services intercepted a large quantity of heroin coming from Thailand and, as the investigation progressed, police executed a search warrant at Learning’s residence in Vernon Jan. 13, 2015. Loaded handguns, more than $10,000 in cash and prescription and non-prescription drugs were seized.
Learning is due in Vernon Provincial Court for trial beginning Oct. 6, 2016, on the weapons charges. He is also scheduled for trial starting July 21, 2016, on a charge of failing to comply with court-ordered conditions.
To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.
We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016