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