Costa lawyer shifts coke case focus
The lawyer for a Hamilton wine business owner accused of importing cocaine has shifted attention away from his client and to a witness’s ties to both a co-accused and Costa Rica, where the drugs came from.
Joe and Erika Costa, owners of Costa’s Wine Country, and Tullio Dintino, who owns Reilly’s 2000 Wholesale Foods, have been on trial for several weeks, facing charges of importing of $6 million worth of cocaine concealed in a large shipment of pineapple juice in December 2015.
The Costas have testified in their defence that they had no idea the shipment would contain cocaine.
They said they were just helping their friend, Dintino, bring the pineapple juice shipment in for his own business because they have an import licence and Dintino does not.
Erika Costa testified that for an earlier pineapple juice shipment from Costa Rica, she made the order and arranged for the shipping because she speaks Spanish.
She was surprised a few months later when Dintino told her he had ordered another shipment himself that was to arrive in December.
She helped him again with shipping and by using the Costas’ import licence.
That shipment, addressed to Costa’s Wine Country on Cannon Street, like the first shipment, was intercepted by the Canada Border Service Agency officers and found to have 100 kilograms of cocaine in it.
On Wednesday, Dintino’s lawyer, Jaime Stephenson, called several witnesses on her client’s behalf, including Erick Merlos, who has known Dintino since 2003, when he coached Dintino’s son at a local boxing club.
Merlos said Dintino asked him to help him import fruit juices by translating in Spanish to a supplier in Costa Rica who did not speak English.
He testified about dealing with the supplier for Dintino, and when Stephenson asked if he had any conversation with Dintino about cocaine or used any code words for cocaine when placing the order, Merlos said there was nothing uncommon with the order.
“It was just someone buying juice … he intended to distribute it to restaurants as pulp for drinks.”
But it wasn’t until Joe Costa’s lawyer, Dean Paquette, asked his questions that the court learned Merlos, although born in El Salvador, lived in Costa Rica before immigrating to Canada in 1990.
Court also heard he visits Costa Rica every four or five years and has a younger brother there.
Merlos said he did not know the supplier Dintino was dealing with there, nor did he know the name of the supplier’s company. All he knew was that he was dealing with a “Mr. Ramirez” on the phone and that he did not speak English, he said.
Paquette said: “It appears you are acting as Mr. Dintino’s agent to communicate with Ramirez to import the juice. We know that 100 kilograms of cocaine came from (the supplier). It was shipped by a Mr. Ramirez … you acknowledge you were talking to Mr. Ramirez at a crucial time about importing fruit juice and we know that it contained cocaine. You understand your situation and how it looks?” “Yes I do,” Merlos answered. But then Paquette asked, “You did not believe you were importing cocaine?” “That’s correct,” Merlos replied. Asked another time about the cocaine, Merlos said, “I knew nothing of that.”
In another line of questioning from Paquette, Merlos agreed his family had struggled to run their restaurant, Delish on Barton Street East, when he was helping Dintino order the juice — and they decided to close it.