Pubdate: Fri, 04 Aug 2006
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2006 The Gazette, a division of Southam Inc.
Author: Jan Ravensbergen, The Gazette


11 Residents Wanted in U.S. After Bust

A Quebec judge has shut the door on a U.S. request to extradite 11
residents of the Bedford area of the Eastern Townships to face charges
after a massive marijuana bust there last year.

"We're evaluating the decision, still, and are going to explore our
options once we fully do that," Tristram Coffin, assistant U.S.
attorney for the district of Vermont, said yesterday from his
Burlington office. "I can't comment beyond that."

The U.S. Department of Justice wants the group - which includes Werner
Kyling, alleged to be a kingpin of a pot ring that racked up gross
annual profits of $30 million - to stand trial in Vermont. Each of the
11 would face U.S. federal charges of conspiracy to traffic and import
marijuana between 1991 and 2005.

Convictions could net individual prison sentences of 20 years or more
in the United States, said a lawyer for one of the 11.

"There is a total lack of evidence to establish the participation of
any of the respondents in the general conspiracies alleged," Quebec
Superior Court Judge James Brunton ruled Wednesday, after seven days
of extradition hearings in June.

The Townships bust, in June 2005, involved more than 250 officers from
the Surete du Quebec, the RCMP and the U.S. Drug Enforcement

Authorities arrested 40 people and confiscated 10,000 pot plants,
hashish, 64 firearms, $368,000 in cash and a helicopter investigators
alleged Kyling used to survey fields of pot plants.

Although Kyling, 63, and the 10 others have been allowed to walk for
now, Brunton left little doubt they face further legal difficulties:
"I suspect this is but a momentary reprieve for the respondents," he
said in his ruling.

Police "could literally arrest the respondents on the steps of the
courthouse as they leave today and charge them ... before Canadian
courts," he added.

Regarding Kyling, "the proof reveals he has been involved, on and off
since 1997, in the production and traffic of marijuana."

Brunton said his ruling "should not be the source of rejoicing for the
respondents or dismay for the law-abiding residents of the Bedford-St.
Armand region," which straddles the Vermont border and where Kyling
and associates have cut a wide swath for many years.

Pierre Labelle, the crown prosecutor who argued the case, is on
vacation and won't be available for comment until next week.

Frank Pappas, a lawyer for Jimmy Kimmell, one of the 11 respondents,
said extradition requests from U.S. authorities are granted "99 per
cent of the time" by Canadian courts. With 11 such requests turned
down in a single shot, he said, "this is a first in Canada."

As for what happens now, crown lawyer Andreanne Cote, who assisted Labelle
in the case, echoed Coffin: "We will evaluate the next step next week."

The other nine respondents are Paul Anderson, Donald Blinn, Brian
Bordo, Martin Castilloux, Martin Clohosy, Gilles Couture, Jerry
Couture, Darin Stewart and Andy Sylvester. 
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