By JOE FRIES
An alleged Mexican drug mule charged with attempting to smuggle methamphetamine into Canada near Osoyoos was given additional time Wednesday to find a Spanish-speaking lawyer to defend him against some “very serious” charges.
Armando Esparza-Ochoa, 30, is accused of importing a controlled substance, possession for the purpose of trafficking, and failing to report to a customs office.
The drug offences, alleged to have occurred Sept. 1, carry with them a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
“The charges, sir, are very serious, and I would encourage you to have or to request a lawyer,” Judge Greg Koturbash told Esparza-Ochoa through a Spanish interpreter.
Mr. Esparza-Ochoa, who was seated in the prisoner’s box, looked around the courtroom nervously during the 10-minute appearance. He asked through the interpreter to have the matter put over to Sept. 12 to give him time to seek counsel ahead of a bail hearing.
Crown counsel Clarke Burnett said he will oppose Mr. Esparza-Ochoa’s release at that hearing because the accused is not a Canadian citizen.
Outside court, Mr. Burnett declined to comment on the amount of methamphetamine with which Esparza-Ochoa is alleged to have been caught, but confirmed it was a significant quantity.
A spokesman for the Canada Border Services Agency referred a request for comment Wednesday to the RCMP.
Penticton RCMP spokesman Const. James Grandy said the investigation was carried out by the force’s Federal Serious and Organized Crime unit in the South Okanagan and a release of more information is pending.
The case seems to bear a similarity to one from two years ago, when another Mexican national, Alexis Joel Garcia Palomino, was caught attempting to smuggle methamphetamine and heroin into Canada near Osoyoos.
Mr. Garcia Palomino pleaded guilty to two offences and was sentenced in December 2016 to 3 1/2 years in prison.
It came out at his sentencing hearing that Mr. Garcia Palomino had gotten mixed up with a Mexican drug cartel and was forced to serve as a mule under threat of death against him and his family.
Joe Fries is an editor and writer at the Penticton Herald. OsoyoosToday and the Herald share an informal editorial use agreement.