Thursday, April 1, 2010
3 year sentence given in Project Divide drug case
WINNIPEG - A Knowles Avenue business owner is the first person sentenced to jail time in connection with one of the largest gang busts in Manitoba’s history.
Details of the massive organized crime bust, dubbed Project Divide, were revealed for the first time in court Thursday, about three months after officers arrested 34 people believed to be affiliated with the Zig Zag Crew and Hell’s Angels.
Blair Alford, 55, told court Thursday he was sorry for delivering 12 ounces of cocaine to a police informant known as "Agent 22" in a Lindenwoods parking lot in July 2009. Alford told court he was helping out someone he knew, but acknowledged he delivered the drugs.
Crown attorney Chris Mainella said Alford was motivated by greed to participate in the drug dealing.
"He only has himself to blame," said Mainella.
Mainella said the drug deal came together after Alford and four other men came together at a Lindenwoods Moxie’s restaurant in early July 2009 to discuss a cocaine trade. The deal involved a Vancouver-based associate of the Independent Soldiers gang, Daniel Hawkins, who was also arrested in the Project Divide bust.
In the days leading up the deal, court heard police collected a flurry of Blackberry PIN messages between Hawkins and the police informant setting up the deal.
On July 28, 2009, Alford got out of a GMC truck in the parking lot of a Lindenwoods Rona and then sat in a car with the informant, counting out drugs and cash, Mainella said. Alford used an empty can of infant formula to carry the cocaine, and police watched him return to his Knowles Avenue shop with the cash, the court heard.
"He didn’t need to get involved with the likes of Mr. Hawkins to make ends meet," Mainella said of Alford, who owns a gravel trucking business.
Alford turned himself into police at the Public Safety Building days after the bust was announced.
Court heard the case against Alford relies on an unidentified police informant, who will receive up to $450,000 for helping officers video and audiotape suspects carrying out drug and gun deals. The police informant is now in the witness protection program, court heard. He became involved with the police because he was motivated by financial interest.
"Agents are what they are," said Mainella. "We don’t dress them up in crinoline."
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice William Burnett accepted a joint recommendation submitted by Mainella and defence lawyer Stephen Friesen. Alford will do a total of 40 months in jail, including three more years in custody and four months he’s already served.
"It’s not Freedom 55," said Mainella. Alford must also submit a DNA sample and have a 10-year weapons prohibition, Burnett ruled.
Court heard Thursday the wispy white-haired man has suffered financial hardship due to publicity around his arrest, which has strained his family.
"He insists he did not have financial benefit," said Friesen.
Alford has a daughter who attends classes at University of Manitoba who has had to work extra to support her family, court heard. No relatives were in court Thursday.
"I don’t really know why I did it," Alford said, adding later: "I’m very sorry for what I did."