Tim Petruk/Kamloops This Week
A Shuswap man alleged to have boasted about running B.C.’s cross-border drug trade after offering American authorities to roll on other smugglers will soon know his fate.
Colin Martin’s extradition hearing began in B.C. Supreme Court in Kamloops on Wednesday, May 7.
Federal Crown prosecutor Andrew Majawa outlined the case against Martin, who lives in Malakwa.
Court heard Martin, who went by the nickname Rolex, led a drug-trafficking ring that moved large quantities of marijuana, MDMA, cocaine, firearms and money between B.C. and Idaho using helicopters and encrypted BlackBerry Messenger conversations.
Majawa said a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency investigation in 2008 and 2009 linked Martin to the operation, which resulted in numerous arrests on both sides of the border.
Martin’s company, Gorge Timber, is alleged by American authorities to have leased two helicopters to move marijuana from B.C. to remote properties in northern Idaho and Washington, near the U.S.-Canada border.
Reading from U.S. court documents, Majawa described Gorge Timber as a front for the drug ring.
The company, owned by Martin and his wife, Jennifer Cahill, has never received a logging permit from the B.C. government, court heard.
“The company apparently has no other legitimate purpose,” Majawa said.
“They were never given any permits.”
Majawa said Martin was directly responsible for organizing the logistics of the helicopter deliveries.
He is alleged to have hired pilots and ground crews in B.C. and the U.S.
Court heard Martin’s employees in the smuggling ring would communicate by BlackBerry Messenger using nicknames — Martin’s being “Counsellor.”
Majawa called the evidence against Martin “powerful,” if not circumstantial.
“It’s quite rare that there would be direct evidence to determine whether or not a person is guilty of conspiracy,” he said.
“Mr. Martin leased the helicopters with the intention of furthering the objectives of the criminal group — which, of course, was smuggling drugs across the border.”
Defence lawyer Eric Purtzki argued Leonard Ferris, who American prosecutors expect to be a key witness at Martin’s U.S. trial should Martin be extradited, had never even met his client.
He said there is no evidence Ferris knew Martin because he only identified him as “Rolex” and “Counsellor.”
“The evidence against Mr. Martin is insufficient,” Purtzki said. “The allegations are vague, incomplete and insufficient.”
According to U.S. court documents, Ferris was arrested on Feb. 21, 2009, while driving a car containing 83 kilograms of cocaine in Utah, en route to a meeting with one of Martin’s helicopters in Washington.
Two days later, DEA agents met the helicopter when it arrived at a pre-designated location in northeast Washington state.
The pilot, Samuel Lindsay-Brown, was arrested and the chopper was seized, along with an estimated $5-million worth of drugs it was carrying.
Following that seizure, the court documents state, Martin was involved in lengthy BlackBerry Messenger conversations about the whereabouts of Lindsay-Brown and the drugs.
The investigation was launched after an undercover DEA agent began discussions with one of Martin’s associates in Los Angeles about the purchase of MDMA, the documents state.
In September 2009, according to the documents, Martin called the DEA office in Vancouver and offered “to provide information regarding drug trafficking into the United States.”
The documents also state Martin boasted in the fall of 2009 about controlling 70 per cent of the cross-border marijuana-for-cocaine trade in B.C.
“Martin explained that he could identify other co-conspirators and direct law enforcement to drug loads so long as he was allowed to continue his drug business for 10 years and was assured that law enforcement would only arrest other people,” the document reads.
The DEA did not accept that offer.
In 2009, Ferris was handed a six-year prison term in Washington state. Ross Legge, who was with Ferris in the car when he was arrested, was sentenced to 10 years.
Martin’s alleged drug-smuggling ring is also linked to the February 2009 death of Lindsay-Brown.
The 24-year-old Nelson native hanged himself in a jail cell in Spokane after he was busted flying a helicopter containing a shipment of drugs — specifically, 400 pounds of marijuana.
In March, Martin pleaded guilty in a Salmon Arm courtroom to unrelated charges of production of a controlled substance and possession for the purpose of trafficking dating back to 2010.
He is due back in court on May 29 to set a date for sentencing.
In 2007, Martin was sentenced to serve two-and-a-half years behind bars after being convicted of Canadian charges stemming from another cross-border drug-smuggling ring.
American prosecutors have charged Martin with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute.
They want him to stand trial in Seattle and it’s up to B.C. Supreme Court Justice William Ehrcke whether he’ll be turned over to American authorities.
The extradition hearing was slated to run three days, but is expected to wrap up on Thursday, May 8.