A British Columbia man has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for his role in the importation of 157 kilograms of cocaine found hidden on the bottom of a container ship in Halifax Harbour in June 2018.
Matthew Ross Lambert, 36, of Richmond was found guilty in July of four charges after a trial in Halifax provincial court. He was sentenced last week in Halifax provincial court.
Judge Elizabeth Buckle imposed sentences of 14 years for conspiracy to import cocaine, 10 years concurrent for conspiracy to traffic cocaine, and 10 years concurrent for attempting to traffic the drugs.
The fourth charge, attempting to possess the cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, was stayed by the judge prior to sentencing.
Earlier this month, Lambert pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to rob drug dealers in B.C. and Ontario. Police charged Lambert after intercepting phone calls between him and other men in the summer of 2018, after he got bail on the importation charges.
Buckle gave Lambert an additional two years in prison for the robbery conspiracy, for an overall sentence of 16 years.
Lambert received three years and 161 days of credit for his time on remand, leaving him with a net sentence of 12 years and 204 days.
In her decision, Buckle said the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has repeatedly said that denunciation and general deterrence must be the primary considerations when sentencing traffickers of hard drugs such as cocaine and people involved in robberies.
“Emphasizing these objectives reflects society’s condemnation for these offences and acknowledges the tremendous harm they do to the community,” the judge said.
“General deterrence is most effective in cases such as this one, where offenders tend to make calculated decisions to balance the potential financial rewards against the risk and consequences of getting caught.”
Buckle said Lambert’s criminal record and the fact that he conspired to commit robbery while awaiting trial on the drug charges suggest a need for specific deterrence as well.
The Arica docked at the Halterm Container Terminal on the morning of June 9, 2018, after sailing from Montreal. A video inspection of the ship’s hull by a remotely operated vehicle detected an anomaly in the sea chest, a grated chamber on the bottom of the vessel.
Lambert and another B.C. man, Darcy Peter Bailey, 48, of Fort St. John, were arrested that evening in an SUV that was stopped by police after leaving Black Rock Beach at Point Pleasant Park, near the container terminal. Bailey was wearing a wet dive suit and there was an underwater propulsion device in the vehicle, as well as diving gear and wrenches.
Two hours later, a diver hired by the Canada Border Services Agency found the cocaine in the Arica’s sea chest.
A pair of Ontario men stood trial with Lambert and Bailey in connection with the seizure. Dangis Seinauskas, 48, of Ajax was apprehended later that evening at a Halifax hotel, and Nelson Alvarado-Calles, 31, of Vaughan was arrested in Ontario two months later.
The evidence at trial showed that prior to the Arica’s arrival in Montreal, Lambert and Bailey were tracking its voyage, had details about the size of the bolts on its sea chest, and researched and purchased diving equipment and tools. The four accused had had prior association, were in a small boat near the Arica in Montreal, and were in or around a pontoon boat with diving gear in Halifax.
Prosecutors alleged that the men planned to remove the drugs from the ship in Montreal but were deterred by bad weather and strong currents, forcing them to divert to Halifax. The defence lawyers said the evidence was consistent with an “innocent explanation” that their clients were diving for algae as part of Bailey’s business, Ocean Plastic Alliance.
Bailey was convicted of the same offences as Lambert and wiil be sentenced in November. Seinauskas and Alvarado-Calles were acquitted.
The Crown attorneys recommended that Lambert be sentenced to 19 years in prison on the drug charges, saying he “took the lead” among the four men charged in the conspiracy, and two years consecutive for plotting the robberies.
Defence lawyer Joel Pink asked for an overall sentence of eight to 10 years, arguing that Lambert played a minor role in the importation conspiracy.
Bu the judge said Lambert, in agreeing to recover and transport the cocaine, “became a part of the sophisticated, international, commercial enterprise. His role, even as part of the recovery team, involved a relatively high level of expertise and equipment.
“I’m not saying he had connection or contact with the person or persons who put the drugs in the sea chest, but he was trusted with that specific and essential information. ... The recovery team was crucial in the scheme to bring the drugs into Canada, and he was crucial to that part of the operation.”
Buckle said the appropriate term of imprisonment for Lambert would have been 18 years, but she reduced it by one year because of the conditions he experienced while on remand – including lockdowns, time in segregation and poor water quality – and deducted another year to keep the combined sentence from being unduly long or harsh.
“Mr. Lambert’s sentence has to reflect his culpability, both for the drug offences and the conspiracy to commit robbery, but take into account the reality that this will be his first penitentiary sentence and it will be significant.”
She also imposed a lifetime firearms prohibition and ordered Lambert to provide a DNA sample for a national databank.
Lambert is one of 15 men awaiting trial in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in the brutal beating of an inmate at the Dartmouth jail last December. The men are charged with conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder, forcible confinement, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and obstructing correctional officers.