Okanagan men sentenced in U.S. for smuggling pot in hollowed out logs | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Okanagan men sentenced in U.S. for smuggling pot in hollowed out logs

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January 09, 2018 - 1:33 PM

VERNON - After an eleven-year battle with the justice system, four Okanagan men extradited to the U.S. on drug trafficking charges will only spend a small fraction of that time behind bars.

The case dates back to 2006, when a group was caught smuggling marijuana from the North Okanagan to the U.S. in hollowed out logs. Eight Canadian men, all tied to the Okanagan, were charged in connection with the operation and fought their extradition orders vehemently. Four have now been sentenced in U.S. court, after unsuccessfully fighting their extradition orders.

Aaron Anderson, Ivan Djracic and Jamie Daniel Nenasheff were sentenced in late 2017 to 12 months and a day in prison for the charge of conspiracy to distribute marijuana, according to court documents. Darrell Joseph Romano was sentenced to 15 months back in April of 2017.

The sentence hearings for Anderson, Djracic and Nenasheff were held in U.S. District Court in California in November and December of 2017.

According to U.S. court documents, the men admitted to importing 705 pounds of marijuana into the United States from Canada. The logs were hollowed out and loaded with marijuana at an industrial area in Armstrong, according to court documents. 

In sentencing submissions, Romano’s lawyer Michael D. Long said his client, who is 60 years old and from Kelowna, occasionally helped out at his brother’s saw mill, where, in 2006, he was asked to help out with an order. As he was filling the order, he saw that some of the other people were hollowing out the logs to conceal a large shipment of marijuana, Long said.

“Based on conversations he overheard, he came to believe that some or all of them were members of “IS,” which is a Canadian gang called the “Independent Soldiers.” Nevertheless, he continued to work on the lumber order and he did not report the crime to law enforcement,” Long said.

Long said Romano’s involvement in the scheme was low-level and pointed out he has no previous record in Canada or the U.S. Romano self-surrendered to Canadian law enforcement in November of 2016 and spent roughly five months in custody awaiting sentencing.

Anderson, who had an address in Vernon, was described in his lawyer’s sentencing submissions as “a song writer, musician and construction worker” who “made a very bad decision” more than a decade ago. Michael L. Chastaine said the case has been hanging over Anderson’s head for many years and bluntly described his client as “a very nice person.”

“While it is unusual for counsel to make such a declaration, I feel compelled to voice my opinion. I have represented literally thousands of defendants in my 31 years of practice. While I normally like my clients and get along with them, every once in a while, a client comes along that I take a strong personal liking to, a client that I would invite to my home for a meal (or in Mr. Anderson’s case to play music together.) Aaron is one of those clients. Respectful, honest and a man of integrity. In short, I believe that he has done enough time on this case and would like to see him released so he can return to his family,” Chastaine said.

Nenasheff’s lawyer described his involvement in the crime as that of a labourer, not someone responsible for the logistics of the operation. Tasha Paris Chalfant said Nenasheff, now 41, who had a previous address in Vernon, was attending nursing school when, in 2004, a “life-altering” car accident occurred and he developed a drug addiction to cope with his injuries.

“He had no sense of purpose, needed money and was invited to help prepare logs for shipment,” Chalfant said. “Once he became sober, his life improved and while in custody he has regularly attended AA/NA and religious services. He is quite committed to remaining sober.”

Co-accused Shane Fraser, Daniel Joinson and Tod Ian Ferguson had their committals for surrender to the U.S. overturned in March of 2017 and their cases were sent back to B.C. Supreme Court for new hearings.

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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