‘Dial-a-dope’ case comes be­fore court

Ed­mon­ton man caught up in com­mon street-level drug scheme

Prince Albert Daily Herald - - FRONT PAGE - ARTHUR WHITE-CRUM­MEY

A Prince Al­bert court­room be­came a win­dow into a lo­cal “dial-a-dope” op­er­a­tion, as an Ed­mon­ton man went on trial Tues­day.

An­to­nio Crane was fac­ing traf­fick­ing charges after po­lice found him in a ho­tel room this April with a stash of crack co­caine, a large num­ber of $20 bills and an ad­mit­ted drug dealer. That man, Levi Hug­gins, pleaded guilty to traf­fick­ing charges Friday.

On Tues­day, he took the stand to de­fend Crane, say­ing his friend had no in­volve­ment in his drug traf­fick­ing busi­ness.

Un­like Hug­gins, Crane didn’t have any drugs on his per­son when po­lice burst into their room.

But po­lice found him with $810 in cash and a flip phone filled with sus­pi­cious mes­sages.

Crown pros­e­cu­tor Brent Slo­bo­dian called sev­eral of those of­fi­cers to the stand. All sea­soned drug in­ves­ti­ga­tors, they said they first got word that three men were deal­ing drugs out of the Qual­ity Inn down­town. Two of those men, they heard, had face tat­toos.

The po­lice set up sur­veil­lance in a park­ing lot by the ho­tel. They saw at least two of those men com­ing in and out of the ho­tel and ap­proach cars, chat­ting with their oc­cu­pants for brief pe­ri­ods. One of­fi­cer said he saw the men get into a van, where a woman handed about $40 to a man he said matched Crane’s de­scrip­tion.

They soon got a search war­rant and barged into the ho­tel room us­ing a bat­ter­ing ram. They ar­rested all three men and seized about eight grams of crack co­caine, pack­aged in in­di­vid­ual bags, and a small quan­tity of metham­phetamine. They also found sev­eral cell­phones.

An RCMP drug ex­pert, Con­sta­ble Adam Gauthier, said that matches what he called a “dial-a-dope op­er­a­tion,” where small-scale deal­ers pass around a cell phone al­ready hooked into a drug net­work.

“The amounts aren’t stag­ger­ing,” he said. “That’s the most com­mon streetlevel that I see, a dial-a-dope op­er­a­tion.”

Gauthier noted that one of the phones found in the ho­tel room – an LG flip phone – con­tained sev­eral mes­sages sug­ges­tive of drug traf­fick­ing. One of the mes­sages men­tions a “ball,” which he said stands for an eighth ounce of co­caine. Sev­eral peo­ple send texts ask­ing for “pieces.” That, he ex­plains, is street lingo for some­what less than a half gram of co­caine.

That phone turned up on Crane, along with the cash. But Hug­gins and Crane both had an ex­cuse for how it found its way into his pocket. They said Crane bor­rowed it from his friend – who, again, read­ily ad­mits to sell­ing drugs – in or­der to call his “baby momma.”

That was only min­utes be­fore po­lice stormed through the door, Hug­gins said.

He said Crane had ab­so­lutely no in­volve­ment in his drug op­er­a­tion. He de­nied that he ever sent his friend out to sell or de­liver drugs. They were just “hang­ing out.”

Crane’s lawyer, Dale Blen­ner-Has­sett, asked Hug­gins why he wanted to tes­tify.

“To tell the truth,” Hug­gins said. “Some­one is in jail be­cause of my ac­tions. I feel guilty about it.”

Slo­bo­dian then stood up to cross ex­am­ine Hug­gins. He first tried to pin down the ex­act amount of drugs Hug­gins brought to Prince Al­bert when he ar­rived the day be­fore: about 14 grams. Then, he turned to the ho­tel.

“Did it con­cern you that the place you were go­ing to be traf­fick­ing out of was close to the Prince Al­bert Po­lice sta­tion?” he asked.

He said he didn’t re­ally think about it. As he spoke, Judge S.D. Schi­effner stud­ied him closely from the bench.

Slo­bo­dian be­gan to spin a trap. He asked how much Hug­gins sold his “pieces” for. About $50, Hug­gins told him. He asked him what he spent the money on. Hug­gins said he used it all on liquor, smokes and metham­phetamine.

“I was spend­ing it faster than I was mak­ing it,” Hug­gins said.

That would im­ply he spent sev­eral hun­dred dol­lars that night. The sub­text, of course, was that some of the money ended up on Crane, since nei­ther of the other men had cash on their per­sons.

Then Slo­bo­dian asked Hug­gins about the third man, Jamie Hunt, who took off after get­ting re­leased on bail. He asked Hug­gins whether Hunt was part of his drug deal­ing op­er­a­tion.

Hug­gins looked un­com­fort­able, bit­ing his lip and then break­ing out in a laugh. He didn’t want to squeal on his as­so­ciate.

“That’s very com­mon,” Slo­bo­dian said. “Don’t want to name names, cor­rect?”

“Yup.”

“Don’t want to be a snitch.”

Crane’s lawyer, Dale Blen­ner-Has­sett, then called his own client to the stand. Crane said he wasn’t deal­ing drugs, but only us­ing them. And he had an ex­pla­na­tion for how he ended up in the van where po­lice spot­ted him. He said he was buy­ing mar­i­juana.

He also said that he didn’t re­ally ask ques­tions about what Hug­gins was do­ing con­stantly tak­ing mes­sages and leav­ing the ho­tel room.

“Did you be­come sus­pi­cious that maybe he was sell­ing drugs?” Blen­nerHas­sett asked his client.

“I wasn’t re­ally think­ing about it,” Crane said.

As for the $810, he said it came from Al­berta’s so­cial as­sis­tance pro­gram, and from his grandma.

Crane also took is­sue with the po­lice of­fi­cer’s tes­ti­mony. He said he wasn’t dressed like the man they saw walk­ing up to those cars. He pointed out that they would have spot­ted his ex­ten­sive fa­cial tat­toos if it was re­ally him.

The defence rested their case after Crane’s tes­ti­mony. The lawyers ar­gued their case be­fore Schi­effner, who gave his de­ci­sion just be­fore the Her­ald went to press.

Crane was found guilty of pos­ses­sion of co­caine for the pu­pose of traf­fick­ing and pos­ses­sion of the pro­ceeds of crime.

“The judge did not be­lieve the tes­ti­mony of ei­ther the ac­cused Crane, or the wit­ness Hug­gins,” Blen­ner-Has­sett told the Daily Her­ald.

He said it was an “uphill bat­tle” rep­re­sent­ing an ac­cused found in a ho­tel room with drug traf­fick­ers, cash and a sus­pi­cious phone.

“That’s the most com­mon streetlevel that I see, a dial-a-dope op­er­a­tion.” Adam Gauthier

DAILY HER­ALD FILE PHOTO

Prince Al­bert’s pro­vin­cial court­house, where the Crane trial was held on Tues­day.

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