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Blayne Roper's lawyer was unable to locate him until just before his court date, and later learned he was in prison in Ontario
He may have been more of a lieutenant in the drug operation than the captain, but Blayne Roper played enough of a role in a cocaine and oxycodone trafficking scheme to earn himself 4 1/2 years behind bars.
The 30-year-old, who was sentenced this week, was arrested in 2016 along with other men after a drug bust by a joint RCMP/RNC investigative team in the St. John's area. The bust resulted in the seizure of close to $270,000 in cash, $1-million worth of drugs, cellphones and drug paraphernalia.
Roper pleaded guilty to charges of possessing cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, possessing oxycodone for the same purpose and possessing the proceeds of crime to a value more than $5,000.
At the time of Roper's arrest on May 23, 2016, police had been watching him and Michael Douglas Smith, a suspected cocaine dealer, for a number of days.
Investigators witnessed an interaction between Smith and two others — Daina Cuff and Dan Palmer — in the parking lot of the Golden Phoenix restaurant, before Cuff and Palmer got back into a vehicle and headed toward Gander.
Police stopped the vehicle and found a locked briefcase containing $14,000 cash, 308 pills, two cellphones and a set of scales with white residue on them, as well as bear spray, a bat, an extendable baton and a pellet gun. Cuff and Palmer were arrested.
Police later witnessed Roper and Smith bringing suitcases to and from the upstairs and downstairs apartments of a home on Lady Anderson Street in the Kenmount Terrace area of the city. Officers saw the men bring a suitcase to the home of a known drug trafficker, then leave with a duffel bag.
Police arrested Roper in the departures area of St. John's International Airport, after Smith dropped him off there. Roper was found to be carrying $11,525 in cash and three grams of cocaine.
An analysis of his cellphone indicated he was distributing drugs for Smith and returning with money, and he was being paid based on the quantity of drugs he distributed. Roper controlled Smith's stash of drugs and money when Smith was out of town.
Smith was also arrested. A search of his vehicle and the Lady Anderson Street address turned up hundreds of thousands of dollars, more than 400 pills, notebooks with "scoresheets" in them, and more.
At his sentencing hearing last week, Roper addressed the court, apologizing for his crimes and saying he had made a stupid decision to make quick money after the birth of his first child. He told the court he wished he could go back in time and make an honest living instead, and said he has plans to do that.
On Monday, Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Justice Rosalie McGrath sentenced Roper to 4 1/2 years behind bars, acknowledging his remorse, his relatively young age, his three young children and the lack of evidence of any lengthy involvement in the drug scheme.
She stressed, however, the far-reaching harm of the illicit drug trade.
"While he was not the directing mind of this trafficking operation, his involvement included a degree of responsibility with respect to the delivery, sale and safeguarding of the drugs beyond what one would expect of a lower-level participant," McGrath said.
Roper had originally pleaded not guilty to the charges and had been set to go to trial. However, his lawyer, Randy Piercey, was unable to locate his client until just before the trial was scheduled to start, and later learned Roper was in jail in Ontario.
Roper had been arrested in Toronto in February and charged with weapons offences as part of a police investigation into a shooting at a library. There were no injuries as a result of the shooting.
Smith is serving time in a federal prison for charges related to the drug bust, and faces newer charges in connection with another local drug investigation. He was among those charged in December as part of Project Broken, which resulted in the seizure of drugs, weapons, jewelry, a Hummer and a Mercedez-Benz, $843,000 in cash and other items.
In June, Cuff was sentenced to three years in prison after he was found guilty at trial of possessing oxycodone for the purpose of trafficking it. Palmer was convicted of drug charges in July.
Twitter: @Tara Bradbury