Ringleader in major cocaine bust sentenced to nine years of prison

One of the 1 kg bricks of mostly pure cocaine seized by Prince Albert police in 2016.. Photo courtesy Prince Albert Police Service.

One of the accused caught in a major drug bust in 2016 has been sentenced to nine years behind bars.

Trevor McKay was sentenced on Sept. 25. The sentencing decision was posted to Canadian Legal Information Institute (CANLII) earlier this month.

McKay had pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking, possession of property obtained by crime and laundering proceeds of crime. The charges arose out of the discovery of 11.26 kilograms of cocaine in a Prince Albert apartment.

Last year, Prosecutor Brent Slobodian revealed the cocaine would be worth about $1.5 million on the streets, more than police had initially reported. At the time, the bust was the biggest in the city’s history.

The Crown had asked for a sentence of 12 years “to reflect the sophistication and scale of the trafficking operation, the quantity and nature of the drugs involved, and Mr. McKay’s involvement in that operation, together with this continued involvement in trafficking in drugs after the police closed down his stash house in Prince Albert,” Judge Schiefner wrote in his decision.

The defence argued the Crown overestimated McKay’s role and “not given sufficient consideration to Mr. McKay’s personal circumstances in recommending an appropriate sentence to this court,” Schiefner said. The defence asked for seven years.

According to the facts of the case, McKay, his girlfriend Kelsey Bear and a third person, Darci Stene, rented an apartment in the city. The apartment was used to store, cut, cook and repackage large volumes of cocaine. The cocaine itself was moved in and out of the apartment in large boxes of powdered drywall mix, coming in in a nearly pure form before being cut and prepared through a network of dealers.

On July 28, 2016, Stene and two others brought a number of items, including large containers, a large box containing a safe and two 25 kg drums containing the cutting agent phenacetin.

Over the next few days, various people came and went from the apartment and brought additional items. Eight boxes of drywall mud were brought in, and two were seen leaving.

McKay and his accomplices were found out when the manager of the apartment complex entered the unit for an annual smoke detector inspection and saw, in plain sight, drugs and other suspicious items. Police were called and seized evidence consistent with a large-scale, sophisticated drug trafficking operation. They found two brocks of nearly pure cocaine (86 per cent) weighing about a kg each, a number of bags of cut and repackaged cocaine, ranging from 26 to 40 per cent and a number of bags of crack cocaine, with purity of about 25 per cent and means to covertly transport the cocaine in the form of multiple boxes of drywall mud. Two of the boxes were found to contain multiple bricks of cocaine.

They also found the drums of phenacetin and 12.6 kg of novocaine, also used as a cutting agent.

About 8.29 kg o the cocaine was in its nearly pure form, ranging from 82 to 88 per cent purity. The rest of the drug had been cut and repackaged for sale.

No evidence of drug use was found at the apartment, nor was there any evidence that anyone lived in the apartment. A review of recovered text messages showed McKay was supplying large volumes of cocaine to a number of dealers, who were then selling that cocaine to the street-level dealers that sell to users. The drugs were being sold in Prince Albert and a number of northern communities, including Lac La Ronge, Il a la Crosse, Pinehouse, Muskoday, Green Lake, Flying Dust and the City of Meadow Lake.

The text messages also showed a large volume of money being received by McKay with amounts as high as $72,0000 and $100,000 owed to him. He laundered the money through the purchase of vehicles.

Leaders in northern Saskatchewan were asked to provide victim impact statements regarding the harm and loss experienced as a result of the drug trafficking. Mayors of Prince Albert, Pinehouse and Meadow Lake, along with the Chiefs of Muskoday and Flying Dust First Nations and Lac La Ronge Indian Band submitted statements.

“Where it has never been an issue in our community, we find that homelessness is now a factor for some of our addicted community members,” Chief Austin Bear of Muskoday First Nation wrote.

“Witnessing a mother sign over her child tax credit cheque to the drug dealer for payment of her drugs is hurtful when her children have no food in the fridge and the youngest is without pampers. The rates of children in care are rising significantly because parents can no longer provide the proper love and nurturing that their children deserve. Children are growing up with bonding and attachment issues and becoming adults who are full of anger.”

“The Flying Dust First Nation is one of many communities heavily impacted by the drug trade and the many participants in trafficking,” wrote Flying Dust Chief Jeremy Norman.

“Over the past several years we have seen a marked increase in property crime, assaults and drug offences. We have had Elders suffer from home invasions and assaults, children who are being abused and neglected, families suffering from financial burden, broken families, chronic illness and death.”

In his conclusions, Judge Schiefner wrote that he is satisfied beyond any doubt that the operation “was both highly sophisticated and intended for the commercial distribution of large volumes of cocaine in Northern Saskatchewan. … Simply put, the operation was designed to be hidden in plain sight. It was covertly located in an ordinary apartment with a rational cover story for the movement of product in and out of the building — namely, the outward appearance of a drywall operation.”

He stressed the “terrible effects” of drugs on northern communities, and pointed to the precedent higher sentences for larger operations.

Schiefner agreed with the Crown’s assertion that McKay was the “guiding mind and lead player” in the operation, from banking and other records, statements from accomplices, communications from phone records, fingerprint evidence and surveillance video. Evidence from the Canadian Revenue Agency indicates that McKay did not have a lawful source of income in 2016, yet his banking records are “consistent with a person of significant financial means.”

Schiefner found that McKay’s motivation was “entirely commercial. … He was in it for the money.”

Schiefner then turned to McKay’s background.

McKay bounced from his grandparents, to his mother who battled addictions issues, to foster care and then to his father, who sold drugs and sought McKay’s help to cook crack cocaine and package it for sale.

“(McKay’s) father tough him the drug trade,” Schiefner wrote. “This normalized the sale of drugs as a source of income.”

His father died in a 2008 bar fight, which may have been a drug deal gone bad.

McKay has a criminal record for theft, failing to attend court, possession, refusing to provide a breath sample, and assault causing bodily harm. He had no prior convictions for drug trafficking, and the longest he had spent in jail was seven days.

Schiefner handed McKay three sentences: nine years for trafficking, two years for possession of property obtained by crime and two years of laundering the proceeds of crime, to be served concurrently.

Fellow accused, Kelsey Bear, who pleaded guilty to the same offences, was sentenced to a global sentence of seven years as a part of a joint submission.