Two Abbotsford men have each been sentenced to five and a half years in prison for their role in handling almost $2 million worth of cocaine found in a berry field in 2009.
Randeep Match, 30, and Manindervir Virk, 24, were convicted earlier this year of possession for the purpose of trafficking. They were sentenced by Justice Brian Joyce on Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court in Chilliwack.
Virk received double credit for the six months he served in pre-trial custody, leaving him with four and half years’ jail time. He had two previous assault convictions at the time of his arrest on the drug charges.
Match had not recorded any prior jail time.
Crown counsel recommended a sentence of eight years, while defence counsel sought a term of four to six years.
Joyce did not agree with the Crown’s assertion that, although drug importation charges were stayed against the pair in earlier proceedings, they should be considered in sentencing. Importation generally results in a higher sentence than drug trafficking.
Match and Virk were arrested in September 2009 after a pilot of the Air One police helicopter spotted three men running in a berry field in the area of Mt. Lehman Road and Zero Avenue – along the Canada-U.S. border, an area known for border jumpers.
The Air One pilot saw Match and Virk run south, while the third person headed north, reaching a property on Huntingdon Road.
An officer on the ground was dispatched to the scene with a police dog, which located four duffel bags filled with 40 bricks of cocaine valued at between $1.4 million and $2 million.
Match and Virk were located hiding in some bushes not far away. The third person was not found.
The Crown suggested that drug importation be considered an aggravating factor in sentencing, but Joyce said there was no evidence that Match and Virk had carried the drugs across the border, as opposed to someone else leaving them in the field for them to pick up.
“It is obvious the cocaine was imported to Canada. Cocaine is not indigenous to Canada,” he said.
However, Joyce said his sentence had to take into account the seriousness of the crime, considering the quantity of cocaine that was involved.
“The moral culpability and degree of responsibility with the intent to traffic the cocaine is, in my view, quite high.”
Joyce said mitigating factors included that Match and Virk had solid family relationships and otherwise appeared to be good men.
Virk was a sub-contractor in the construction field up until his sentencing.
Match is married with two children, and was formerly a truck driver before becoming a carpet layer. He was also an active volunteer at the Sikh Temple.
“I made a mistake. This is my first and last mistake. I won’t ever do it again,” Match addressed the judge before sentencing, although he maintained throughout the trial that he knew nothing about the drugs.
In addition to jail time, Match was given a 10-year weapons ban, while Virk was issued a lifetime prohibition.