Grow op ‘frontman’ gets one year in jail

‘I’m sorry,” Kwok Yiu Cheung told territorial court Judge Karen Ruddy on Thursday afternoon, his arms outstretched at his sides.

‘I’m sorry,” Kwok Yiu Cheung told territorial court Judge Karen Ruddy on Thursday afternoon, his arms outstretched at his sides.

“It’s a hard lesson,” Ruddy answered before sentencing the 51-year-old Vancouver man to one year in jail for his part in operating a marijuana grow-operation in Copper Ridge in 2005.

The sentence followed the recommendations outlined in a joint submission put forward by Crown counsel Noel Sinclair and defence lawyer Gordon Coffin.

Two weeks ago, Coffin entered a guilty plea on Cheung’s behalf to the charge of cultivating marijuana.

The Crown stayed the other charges against Cheung.

After Cheung’s sentence was pronounced, the sheriff entered the courtroom, handcuffed the man and led him out the door.

Cheung was arrested following a bust on 86 Falcon in Copper Ridge, where RCMP found a “significant commercial” grow-op in production.

They seized 744 female marijuana plants — the ones with THC — worth between $347,500 and $558,000, and more than $14,000 in equipment such as lamps, electric timers, hydroponic pumps and filters.

Cheung’s name was on the house’s power bill and the lease agreement.

He was not in the house when the bust went down. He was arrested in Vancouver on December 5, 2005.

Cheung lived at the grow-house for short periods of time, Coffin told the court.

But he had “very little if anything to do with the production.

“In essence, he was put in the house as a front,” said Coffin.

Cheung was born in Hong Kong and has lived primarily in Vancouver and worked as a cook since coming to Canada with his family in 1972.

He became a Canadian citizen in 1985.

Cheung came to Whitehorse in 2005 looking for work at a Chinese restaurant, but his search was unsuccessful.

Then he was told that if he signed a lease at 86 Falcon he could live there for free, said Coffin.

The grow-operation was “not his concern,” the house was “just a place for him to stay,” he told the court.

This is representative of the unwelcome proliferation of British Columbia’s marijuana grow industry in the Yukon, Sinclair told the court.

The scale of the operation — with between $300,000 and $500,000 in pot plants found on site — is an aggravating factor.

That could generate vast sums of money for whatever criminal enterprise is behind it, said Sinclair.

The Crown had no evidence to offer as to who might have been behind it.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to discover that,” said Sinclair.

It is the actions of the small players that allow the bigger players to keep in business, he added.

“Mr. Cheung will be made painfully aware of that,” Ruddy told the court.

He will suffer the consequences along with anyone else netted in the operation.

Cheung’s charges stem from Project Mobile, an investigation that ended with the RCMP charging nine men for possessing and producing marijuana following a series of busts in 2005 when they closed six grow-operations and seized more than 4,500 pot plants.

Earlier this month, the Crown acquitted four of the men charged under the investigation.

That decision came weeks after a territorial court ruling that prevented evidence collected on some of the accused from being heard at trial.

In an 83-page report, Judge Karen Ruddy found the RCMP violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms numerous times during its investigation, and tossed out evidence collected from those breaches.

The acquittal still allows the Crown to appeal.

Zhu Dong Liang pleaded guilty to theft of electricity, producing marijuana and possessing cocaine. He was sentenced to one year in jail.

Guang Xian Zhu, a ‘gardener’ or caretaker of one grow-op was sentenced six months less one day in jail, 18 months of probation and 100 hours of community service.

Wei Min Zhai waived his charges in Yukon court so they can be heard in British Columbia.

The ninth man, Zhi Jiang Xu, was never apprehended. A warrant is still out for his arrest. (LC)

 CRIME

Body found on riverbank

Whitehorse experienced its first homicide since 2004 this week.

On Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., RCMP were called to an assault at the riverbank near Shipyards Park.

There they found an unresponsive adult male with serious injuries.

Fifty-two-year-old Colin Stephen Sawrenko was rushed to hospital and died at approximately 1 a.m. Wednesday morning.

An autopsy has been ordered to determine the cause of death.

The homicide is an isolated incident, according to RCMP.

Police ask anybody who witnessed suspicious activity near the Yukon River on Tuesday afternoon to call the detachment at 667-5555 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

This is the first murder local RCMP have investigated since Robert Olson was killed in Carcross in December 2004. (LC)