Manitoba court hands leaders of cross-country drug smuggling network lengthy prison sentences

The man deemed the kingpin of a western Canadian drug-trafficking ring and his “right-hand man” were handed lengthy prison sentences last month, says a judgment filed in Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench.

Mohammed Khan of Vancouver and Mason Burg of Winnipeg both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to traffic cocaine, says Justice Chris Martin’s judgment, dated Sept. 24.

Khan was sentenced to nine years in prison. When his time in custody is taken into account, that comes out to just over six years.

Meanwhile, Burg was given a six-and-a-half-year sentence; with time in custody considered, his remaining sentence is just over three years, seven months.

Khan, who investigators said ran the smuggling and distribution operation, also pleaded guilty to extortion. He was handed another nine months for pleading guilty to that charge, which will be served at the same time as the rest of his sentence.

The police investigation, which spanned 10 months and involved five forces, determined drugs were flowing into Winnipeg by semi-truck from British Columbia. Deals were then made at truck stops in Headingley, or in the parking lot of a nearby restaurant, police said in late 2018, when they announced the charges against Khan, then 39, and Burg, 24 at the time, along with several others.

Khan and Burg were headed to trial on a joint indictment that included other charges that were stayed in a plea deal. 

Those charges included possession of cocaine and ketamine for the purposes of trafficking, possession of cash knowing it was derived from criminal activity and possession of a loaded restricted firearm, the judgment says. Khan was also charged with additional firearm offences. 

13 arrested in drug bust

Khan and Burg were among 13 people arrested as part of a 2018 bust police dubbed Project Riverbank, which saw the seizure of nearly $3 million worth of drugs and other property β€” including a semi-truck β€” and the interruption of a major criminal network, police said.

Ten of those people, including Khan and Burg, were arrested in a single “takedown” day, while three others were arrested shortly after, the judgment says. Of the 13, most of the accused pleaded guilty, Justice Martin’s judgment says. One person’s charges were stayed, while one other went to trial.

Five of those who pleaded guilty, including a pair of Winnipeggers who oversaw a distribution network selling drugs that arrived in the city by semi-trailer, are serving multi-year sentences behind bars.

Khan and Burg elected for a provincial court trial in March 2019. But months later, the Crown pursued a direct indictment, which moved the trial process to the higher Court of Queen’s Bench.

The judgment last month was meant to deal with an application by defence counsel that included three motions.

One of those motions asked that prosecutors disclose what materials they sent to the director of public prosecutions, the deputy attorney general of Canada and/or the deputy attorney general of Manitoba to get a direct indictment.

As a result of the 10-month investigation that involved five police forces, police said they busted a complex drug network that was operating across the western provinces, resulting in $2.7 million in drugs, cash and vehicles being seized. (Warren Kay/CBC)

A second asked that the direct indictment be quashed, arguing it constituted an abuse of process and violated the defendants’ Charter rights.

But Martin wasn’t swayed by those claims.

“Essentially, defence counsel accused Crown counsel of deliberate misfeasance or, at minimum, a serious ethical lapse,” Martin wrote. 

“These claims were never justified. Vigorously advocating on behalf of a client is one thing; lightly tossing out irresponsible insinuations is entirely another. It is unacceptable advocacy.”

Motions dismissed

The defence’s third motion asked for a stay of proceedings or bail, saying the defendants’ Charter rights to be tried within a reasonable time were breached.

Martin noted the “unwieldy” list of roughly two dozen pre-trial or Charter applications brought in by the defence, and said he found the time required to prosecute the case fell within “an acceptable, tolerable range.”

He dismissed the defendants’ applications to get rid of the direct indictment and have a stay of proceedings entered, finding the Crown’s actions were justified under the “unique circumstances” of the case, the judgment says.

When Martin announced that decision at application hearings on Sept. 14, the court took a break before it was scheduled to hear the 15 pre-trial applications brought by the defence.

Twenty minutes later, counsel announced the plea bargain that included a joint sentencing recommendation for the pair, the judgment says.

At that point, the remaining pre-trial applications were abandoned, the judgment says, though the plea arrangement leaves open the possibility of appealing the decision.

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