B.C.'s top court upholds 11-year sentence for Kelowna man who sold fentanyl on dark web

Trafficker's sentence upheld

B.C.’s highest court has upheld an 11-year prison sentence for a Kelowna man who operated an international fentanyl trafficking operation from his downtown clothing store via the dark web.

In an unanimous decision, a three-judge panel with the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled Monday that the sentence handed last year to James Nelson, 39, was not unfit.

Nelson argued at appeal that a sentence of seven years imprisonment would have been more appropriate, given his lack of a previous criminal record.

The appeals court, however, ruled that the sentencing judge properly considered Nelson’s lack of a record, which resulted in the lowering of the sentence from what could have been as high as 16 years in prison given the severity of the crime.

The Court of Appeal also ruled that while Nelson’s operation wasn’t your typical drug trafficking racket, it was just as deadly and much more deceptive.

“The appellant presented himself to his community as a law abiding, responsible and respectable citizen and father, whose common law wife, the co-accused, operated a small business in downtown Kelowna,” ruled Justice Patrice Abrioux.

James Nelson and his common-law partner Cassie Bonthoux opened the Duke & Duchess clothing store on Pandosy Street in 2013 and used the storefront to mail packages of fentanyl and the even more potent opioid carfentanil around the world.

Both Nelson and Bonthoux were arrested in August 2017, a year after a Calgary police officer stumbled upon an advertisement for fentanyl and carfentanil on the dark web market AlphaBay while investigating another case. The drugs were being sold by the username FatTuesday_13.

The Calgary police turned their attention to FatTuesday_13, and an officer purchased two separate shipments of fentanyl and carfentanil from the user, costing about $125 USD each.

FatTuesday_13 described himself as a “one of the premium fentanyl vendors in Western Canada.”

The packages arrived by Canada Post about a week after purchase. The envelopes contained a Homes & Land Okanagan magazine and the small baggies of drugs were found inside two glued-together pages.

The Calgary police were notified by the American Internal Revenue Service that FatTuesday_13 was likely a James Nelson who lived on Loseth Drive in Kelowna. The IRS had learned this information from a prior investigation.

During this time, the Kelowna RCMP were assisting the Calgary police by surveilling both Nelson and Bonthoux. Police witnessed Bonthoux mailing several packages and picking up a large stack of Homes & Land Okanagan magazines.

When police swooped in and arrested Nelson and Bonthoux, Nelson was in the middle of mailing packages of fentanyl and carfentanil to destinations around the world. Nelson and Bonthoux's young son was removed from Nelson and Bonthoux's home and placed in the care of his grandparents.

During several search warrants, police found 102.9 grams of the extremely potent carentanil at the couple's home, along with trafficking paraphernalia like scales, score sheets and 97 Canada Post receipts from the previous month. He was also found with about 19.2 Bitcoins that were worth just over $83,000 at the time.

Police called Nelson and Bonthoux's operation “one of the most significant and perhaps the most sophisticated fentanyl/carfentanil trafficking and exportation enterprises that has been uncovered in Canada to date.”

Prosecutors would later drop charges against Bonthoux in a deal that saw Nelson plead guilty.

Nelson also appealed his 11-year sentence on the grounds that the judge considered unproven evidence during sentencing. But the appeal court noted that evidence had been included in the agreed statement of facts between the Crown and defense and was never previously disputed.

with files from Nich Johansen

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