Costas had no rea­son to get in­volved in co­caine, lawyer says

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - CARMELA FRAGOMENI cfragomeni@thes­pec.com 905-526-3392 | @Car­matTheSpec

Costa’s Wine Coun­try own­ers Joe and Erika Costa are hard­work­ing and de­cent peo­ple who had no plau­si­ble rea­son to get in­volved in drug traf­fick­ing, says one of their lawyers.

Dean Pa­que­tte, lawyer for 56-year-old Joe Costa, said in his clos­ing state­ment Thurs­day that ev­i­dence showed they were suc­cess­ful en­trepreneurs with a net worth of $3.7 mil­lion, and that 22 friends and busi­ness as­so­ciates attested to their hon­est and gen­er­ous character.

“Peo­ple like Erika and Joe don’t sud­denly wake up one day and jointly de­cide to aban­don those character traits and de­cide to im­port 100 kilo­grams of co­caine.”

The Costas and co-ac­cused Tul­lio Dintino, who owns Reilly’s 2000 Wholesale Foods, are on trial for charges of im­port­ing $6 mil­lion of co­caine con­cealed in a ship­ment of pineap­ple juice from Costa Rica in De­cem­ber 2015.

The Costas have tes­ti­fied they had no idea the ship­ment would con­tain co­caine. They said they were just help­ing out their friend, Dintino, 53, bring in the pineap­ple juice for his busi­ness be­cause they had an im­port li­cence and he did not.

Erika Costa, 54, tes­ti­fied that in an ear­lier pineap­ple juice ship­ment from Costa Rica, she made the or­der and ar­ranged for the ship­ping — as a favour to Dintino — be­cause she speaks Span­ish and be­cause she and her hus­band had all the im­port­ing and ship­ping av­enues in place for their wine and grape busi­ness.

She was sur­prised later when Dintino told her he had or­dered another ship­ment by him­self that was to ar­rive in De­cem­ber, but she helped him out again with the ship­ping and im­port­ing.

That ship­ment, ad­dressed to Costa’s Wine Coun­try on Can­non Street like the first ship­ment, was in­ter­cepted by Canada Bor­der Ser­vice Agency (CBSA) of­fi­cers in Hal­i­fax and found to have 100 kilo­grams of co­caine in it.

Pa­que­tte called the Crown’s case cir­cum­stan­tial and “woe­fully in­ad­e­quate” in proof. He said the Costas were vir­tu­ally un­known to po­lice be­fore this case and nei­ther has a criminal record.

Pa­que­tte ar­gued the character wit­nesses showed that “the Costas have a ster­ling rep­u­ta­tion for hon­esty, in­tegrity and gen­eros­ity; a rep­u­ta­tion that any­one would be proud to pos­sess; a rep­u­ta­tion that any of us would dream of as­pir­ing to.”

More than one wit­ness, he said, vol­un­teered that they didn’t be­lieve it pos­si­ble that the Costas could be guilty of these crimes.

Pa­que­tte ar­gued it was im­plau­si­ble that the Costas “de­cided to set aside their life­long morals and val­ues and jeop­ar­dize the rep­u­ta­tion they’ve earned over hun­dreds if not thou­sands of per­sonal in­ter­ac­tions with friends, cus­tomers and sup­pli­ers” to un­der­take a crime with Dintino.

“We know some­one was the in­tended re­cip­i­ent” of the co­caine that cost $500,000 in Costa Rica and would have sold for $6 mil­lion in Canada, he said. “But the ship­ment was im­ported by the Costas for Dintino. It was his ship­ment, not theirs.”

Pa­que­tte pointed out that Erick Mer­los, a Dintino wit­ness who once lived in Costa Rica and speaks Span­ish, acted as go-be­tween for Dintino and the sup­plier of the in­ter­cepted juice ship­ment at a time when his fam­ily restau­rant in Hamil­ton was in fi­nan­cial trou­ble.

Ear­lier in the day, Dintino’s lawyer called sev­eral wit­nesses who tes­ti­fied to his client’s gen­eros­ity, es­pe­cially with un­der­priv­i­leged chil­dren.

Kim­berly Orr, tes­ti­fy­ing on Dintino’s be­half, said he was al­ways do­nat­ing fresh food and veg­eta­bles to kids in school and fam­i­lies in need.

Orr also said she helped him with a mar­ket­ing and pro­mo­tion plan to sell the pineap­ple juice he’d planned to im­port. “We had big plans for it.”

Wit­ness Robert Wil­cox said he ap­proached Dintino for help when he had a pro­duce store in 1993. He wanted pro­duce for his son, who had been di­ag­nosed with brain can­cer. “He said to me, ‘What­ever you need, you come and get it. No cost.’”

The trial con­tin­ues on Thurs­day.

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