Thursday, July 15, 2010
Gang associate quickly returns to crime after release from prison
A Manitoba gang associate wasted no time jumping back into the criminal lifestyle after getting released from prison.
Benjamin Morris Zapata walked out of Stony Mountain penitentiary on July 21, 2009 after being released on parole with strict conditions. Less than 48 hours later, Zapata was attending a high-profile meeting in Winnipeg where he was granted full-patch status with the Zig Zag Crew, the so-called "puppet club" of the Hells Angels in Manitoba.
Zapata, 28, then spent the next few months carrying on sanctioned gang business and arranging a large cocaine dealer with another gangster who was secretly working as a police agent as part of a massive undercover sting operation.
All of this was occurring while he was on parole with orders to not to have any contact with gang members or associates. And with Zapata already having five prior drug-related convictions on his criminal record.
"I truly regret what’s happened here. Sorry to everyone I’ve disappointed," Zapata - who goes by tne nickname of "Little Mikey" - told a Winnipeg courtroom Thursday. He pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and was convicted of participating in a criminal organization and conspiracy to launder proceeds of crime after a 15-minute "trial" which saw the Crown simply recite the allegations and his lawyer offer up no objections or rebuttal evidence.
In essence, Zapata was conceding he was guilty without having to be seen as pleading guilty, court was told. Zapata was then sentenced to 99 months in prison (8 years, 3 months), in addition to seven months of time already served. On paper, his sentence is just under nine years total.
Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Marc Monnin warned Zapata those numbers will only grow larger for future offences, given his horrible record which included a three-year prison sentence for his last drug crime. As well, Crown attorney Chris Mainella said Zapata is unlikely to get early release from prison given his history.
"Prison officials tends to keep gang members in prison as long as they can," he said.
Zapata was one of 33 people arrested last December as part of "Project Divide," in which police used their informant to secretly record drug and weapons deals going down. He is the 15th accused to plead guilty, and his sentence is the longest handed down so far.
Zapata was living in Brandon following his release from Stony and was essentially in charge of the region, court was told. He was caught on audio and video surveillance bragging about the lucrative drug market in the western Manitoba city and how he could inflate his prices as a result. Zapata eventually sold 10 ounces of highly-diluted cocaine to the police agent for $8,000.
Prisons are the schools of crime and longer prison sentences have been shown to increase chances of re-offending due to the negative prison subculture, environment, influences, gangs, drugs and pro-criminal attitudes, values and behaviours. This man likely became MORE involved in the gang lifestyle through prison. Often inmates are released with little assistance, support and guidance. They are often released with little rehabilitation, life skills, risk management skills, no housing, unemployed, little support from family/friends and financial difficulties. It's no wonder many return to a life of crime! What would you expect, under these circumstances?! Simply telling inmates not to have contact with specific people, is not a focused enough order. They need more supervision and more specific guidelines to follow. I believe that the criminal justice system needs to be reformed to place more emphasis and focus on rehabilitation, reform, restoration and crime prevention. We need less reliance on prisons and more on alternative community sanctions, as they can better address the root causes and contributing factors to crime. There needs to be more assistance and support given to released inmates to help them successfully reintegrate into society. There also needs to be more programming available to them to help them learn the skills they need to survive on the outside.
If drugs were legalized and controlled and regulated by the government, we wouldn't be overcrowding our prisons with drug offenders. Legalization would remove drugs from violent gang members and dealers and put them into the control of governments. This sounds much safer to me! Drug abuse should be a health issue not a criminal justice issue. More money must be spent on crime prevention and addiction treatments as opposed to imprisoning more drug offenders for longer periods. That does not solve the long term drug problem. This man did not participate in any violent criminal activities and I do not believe that he is a danger to the public's safety. Non-violent drug offenders should NOT be imprisoned. It just causes further unnecessary overcrowding.