Cross-border condom swallower remains in jail
The sentencing of a man who pleaded guilty to importing cocaine – via swallowing 66 drug-filled condoms – was adjourned last week so lawyers could research if immigration laws should be considered in deciding his penalty.
“Our correctional system is designed in such a way that people in custody get out a little early to be integrated” back into the community, Judge James Sutherland said during a March 11 hearing for Ricardo Vasquez in Surrey Provincial Court.
“We don’t know… whether Mr. Vasquez is subject to that, or whether he has to stay in. Mr. Vasquez is not going to be reintegrated into Canadian society.”
Vasquez, 35, pleaded guilty Jan. 30 to importing cocaine. He has been in custody since Sept. 7, after border guards at the Pacific Highway crossing in South Surrey became suspicious of information provided by Vasquez, who was a passenger on a northbound bus.
As Vasquez stood in the prisoner’s dock, federal prosecutor James Whiting told Sutherland how Vasquez had told the officers he was travelling from Chicago, Ill. to Whistler to see a friend, but he had no return ticket.
Then, Vasquez changed his story, explaining he was travelling from Guadalajara, Mexico, and that he had said Chicago because he thought it would make it easier to enter the country.
Vasquez was carrying two cellphones, Whiting said, one of which bore a text message that appeared to point to a plan to import drugs; it instructed Vasquez to dispose of his plane tickets and luggage tags, and to call when he arrived at his hotel.
Ion scans and swab tests “all came back as testing positive for cocaine,” the prosecutor said.
When an X-ray was inconclusive, Whiting said, Vasquez was taken to Vancouver airport to be monitored in a “drug loo.”
That afternoon, Vasquez gave a statement “that he had swallowed about 20 pellets two or three days prior,” Whiting said.
About 30 minutes after that, he “began to excrete the pellets, (each) about 1.5” in length.”
Due to health concerns, Vasquez was then transported to Richmond Hospital. The balance of the 66 pellets – a total 725 grams of cocaine – were collected over the next two days.
Whiting estimated the wholesale value of the drugs at just over $25,000.
Vasquez, who doesn’t speak English, listened to proceedings through a translator. He became emotional when Whiting spoke of his apparent motivation for the crime – a personal debt incurred as a result of medical bills for his son.
Whiting said that without proof, the claim cannot be given much weight.
Describing importing drugs as a more serious offence than trafficking, he asked Sutherland to impose a four-year jail term on Vasquez.
“The Crown’s position… (is) that couriers are not to be treated any more leniently. In fact, case law says the opposite,” Whiting said. “Couriers tend to be selected due to their lack of criminal record or the perception that will appear more sympathetic” should they be caught.
“Choosing to bring something like this into the country certainly reflects a serious, serious threat of damage to the community.”
Vasquez’s lawyer, Evi dos Santos, suggested Sutherland consider a term of 18 months, describing his client as being in “desperate need… compelled to be part of this scheme.”
“There is no evidence he was going to profit,” dos Santos said.
Dos Santos noted Vasquez has no prior criminal record, he was made to swallow the drugs and he is remorseful.
Jail, dos Santos added, has been “very stressful” on his client; he has lost contact with his wife and son, lost weight and isn’t sleeping well.
Sutherland, noting the terms of statutory release in this case is a “live issue,” adjourned the hearing until April 5.