Former baseball hopeful developed addiction after sports surgery; convicted for drug trafficking in North Okanagan | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Former baseball hopeful developed addiction after sports surgery; convicted for drug trafficking in North Okanagan

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
August 21, 2018 - 6:30 PM

VERNON - A former baseball player with a scholarship to a U.S. college was handed a six-month jail sentence today on one charge of possession of narcotics for the purpose of trafficking.

Brandon Sonnenberg, 24, was arrested in April of 2016 after police observed him participating in a dial-a-dope drug operation in Vernon. He was apprehended with $50 worth of heroin, two cell phones and about $1,500 in cash, Provincial Court Judge Richard Hewson said during a sentencing hearing today, Aug. 21. Following the arrest, police monitored one of the cell phones and observed a rapid series of calls from people apparently seeking to purchase drugs.

Sonnenberg developed an opioid addiction after a career-ending surgery, court heard. He was, at the time, pursuing a career as a professional baseball player and had secured a scholarship to attend a college in Texas. Unfortunately, he had to have ‘Tommy John surgery’, a reconstructive procedure performed on his throwing arm. His scholarship was not renewed.

“He fell into a deep depression, and an addiction to the opioids he had been prescribed for post-surgical recovery,” Hewson said.

Sonnenberg’s lawyers fought unsuccessfully for a delay application requesting that the matter be thrown out due to the length of time it took to get to trial. That application, along with other charter arguments, was not granted.

Hewson sentenced Sonnenberg to six months behind bars for the crime, along with a 12 month probation that includes attending any counselling programs ordered by his supervisor.

Sonnenberg’s lawyers had asked the judge to consider a suspended sentence with a period of probation, instead of jail time. If granted, that would mean the judge would suspend the passing of an actual sentence and simply impose conditions on the accused’s release by way of a probation order. In arguing for a suspended sentence, Cobb highlighted reference letters written on behalf of his client and said Sonnenberg has good prospects for the future. He said Sonnenberg sought out the help of a former addict who now works at the emergency ward of an Okanagan hospital for guidance in overcoming his substance abuse issues. Cobb added that it’s relatively easy to get drugs in jail, and argued that Sonnenberg would have better prospects if he stays on his current path.

“He’s learned his lesson,” Cobb said.

Sonnenberg told the court on July 12 that he feels embarrassed about his addiction and admitted to doing some “dumb things.” He said it’s an ongoing challenge to stay clean and confessed to relapsing just before his trial. When asked by the judge what else he has done to address his addiction — in addition to meeting with the hospital worker — Sonnenberg said he has not attended any formal counselling and doesn’t want people to know about his substance abuse problem.

“It’s kind of like a personal little demon I have,” he said.

Judge Hewson acknowledged Sonnenberg’s lack of a criminal record and his gainful employment as a construction worker. However, he was not persuaded that a suspended sentence was justified given the circumstances. He said the sentencing range for a dial-a-dope offence is between six and 18 months of imprisonment, unless exceptional circumstances around such areas as remorse, rehabilitation and lack of a criminal record are involved.

“(The) steps that he has taken towards rehabilitation do not appear to have extended much beyond discussing and laying out a plan to work through substance abuse issues with (the hospital worker). He (Sonnenberg) told me he has not had time to engage in addiction treatment,” Hewson said.

He said he could not find the kind of significant and identifiable steps towards rehabilitation that he would need to justify a suspended sentence.

“It was clear that he regretted having embarrassed his family and having put himself into legal jeopardy, but it was not clear that he had any insight into the harm he had done to others in the community by committing these offences,” Hewson said.

During his decision, Hewson also touched on the seriousness of dial-a-dope drug trafficking operations in communities.

“Dial-a-dope drug trafficking operations enable a wide and rapid distribution of illegal drugs that inflict harm on the individuals that use them, and also harm our community in general,” he said.

Sonnenberg was escorted from the courtroom immediately after the sentencing hearing by court sheriffs for transport to prison.

Defence counsel Julian van der Walle, who appeared as an agent for Neil Cobb, said Sonnenberg is considering appealing the judge’s ruling with respect to the delay application and charter challenges.

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.

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