UPDATE: Mexican drug mule nabbed crossing border near Osoyoos sentenced to 8 years behind bars | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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UPDATE: Mexican drug mule nabbed crossing border near Osoyoos sentenced to 8 years behind bars

Armando Esperoza-Ochoa is facing a significant jail term after pleading guilty to importing a controlled substance in Penticton court today, March 5, 2020.
March 05, 2020 - 3:56 PM

A Mexican national faces a lengthy jail term after attempting to smuggle a backpack full of methamphetamine across the Canada-U.S. border.

Armando Esparza-Ochoa, 31, was caught by Canadian authorities on Sept. 1, 2018, after a border surveillance detected the man crossing the U.S.-Canada border west of the Osoyoos port of entry.

Ochoa entered a guilty plea to a single count of importing a controlled substance in Kelowna court on Nov. 4, 2019 and was in Penticton court for a sentencing hearing today, March 5.

Federal Crown prosecutor Dave Peltier told court RCMP were advised around 9:54 p.m. on Sept. 1, 2018, of Ochoa's whereabouts by the U.S. Border Patrol, using an infrared tracking device.

Ochoa’s presence at the border had been previously detected after he was photographed by a strategically placed camera in an orchard 300 metres west of the Osoyoos port of entry.

Members of the RCMP found Ochoa hiding in bushes on a knoll about two kilometres west of the orchard he had entered Canada through.

A backpack was found about 30 metres away from the suspect.

Examination of the backpack revealed nine packages containing a total of 12.8 kilograms of methamphetamine.

Peltier told court the contents of the backpack could be worth anywhere from $230,400 to $1.28 million, depending on how the methamphetamine was sold.

Ochoa told police he was a Mexican citizen living in California at the time of his arrest.

He was spending the fruit picking season in Washington and had hitchhiked from Chelan to Oroville, near the Canada-U.S. border when he lost most of his personal items in a theft.

He said a man he had worked with in Washington state later offered him a ride. The man also offered him $2,500 to take the backpack across the border to a designated spot.

At first Ochoa refused, but an offer of assistance in bringing his brother to the U.S. from Mexico convinced him to carry the pack.

Peltier said Ochoa was now seeking asylum in Canada, fearing retribution against him and his family members by those who owned the drugs.

Ochoa also had a relationship with a woman in Chelan, who told authorities he was a good man and responsible. Ochoa has been a field worker since he was 14, making $600 per week with no assets, savings or debts.

Peltier said Ochoa was aware of the risks involved in what he was doing and accepted them, calling it “by luck” he was caught.

He called it ironic Ochoa would be using the very offences he committed to apply for asylum in Canada.

Peltier asked Justice Gary Weatherill to consider a sentence in the eight to nine year range.

Defence lawyer Michael Patterson called for the judge to use an “individualized” approach to sentencing, saying his client’s threat to safety was real.

“The consequences live on - those who own the drugs will be looking for him. He’s greatly in fear for his life,” Patterson said.

He said his client’s actions were based on a motivation for a quick $2,500 which he stupidly agreed to do.

“He sold his liberty for $2,500 and some assistance for his family. He has admitted the offence. He made a bad choice and didn’t consider the consequences,” Patterson said.

He asked for a sentence of four to five years.

Judge Weatherill said he took into account both counsel's submissions and case histories in coming to a decision this afternoon. He said the volume of methamphetamine attempted to be imported by Ochoa was a "very serious offence," as was the deliberate intention of the act and the fact Ochoa did not use a regulated point of entry.

He also took note of Ochoa's reputed good character and lack of prior offences, but pointed out those qualities were often what drug traffickers were looking for when they picked 'couriers' or 'mules' such as Ochoa.

"You were duped into carrying that backpack across the border, in what was an unsophisticated process, but you are by no means innocent," the judge told Ochoa through an interpreter.

He sentenced Ochoa to an eight year jail term. He has been in custody since is arrest so he almost six years left to serve.

— This story was updated at 3:55 p.m. March 5, 2020, to add sentencing information.

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