Costa lawyer shifts coke case fo­cus

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - CARMELA FRAGOMENI cfragomeni@thes­ 905-526-3392 | @Car­matTheSpec

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.

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