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B.C. judge commits one man for extradition to face U.S. drug trial, discharges another

Pair was indicted in 2019 for alleged conspiracy in connection with international drug scheme
There is enough evidence to send one of two suspects to the U.S. to face drug charges, but not the other, a B.C. judge has ruled | Photo: Rob Kruyt/BIV files

Two Metro Vancouver men charged almost three years ago in a major transnational drug scheme met different fates April 28 in BC Supreme Court.
Justice Jeanne Watchuk committed one for extradition to face trial in California, but she discharged another.

Tenny Guon Lim and Dario Antonio Baruca were indicted in May 2019 by a grand jury for conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances. Watchuk said there is enough evidence to send Lim south, but not for Baruca.

Lim has 30 days to file an appeal or surrender to U.S. authorities.

Prosecutors in the Central District of California’s federal court said more than a dozen defendants were involved in the scheme and police seized nearly 1,000 pounds of cocaine, nine kilograms of heroin, 46 kg of methamphetamine and 46 kg of ecstasy, as well as more than $800,000 in Canadian cash.

Investigators found the operation involved members of Canadian, Mexican, Serbian, Chinese and Sudanese gangs, some of whom used coded language and military-grade, end-to-end encrypted devices to hide their communications.

“As is often the case with conspiracy, the evidence against Mr. Baruca and Mr. Lim is largely circumstantial,” Watchuk said in her oral judgment. “Here, most of the evidence consists of encrypted messages and recorded phone calls regarding the trafficking of cocaine and MDMA. Mr. Baruca and Mr. Lim are alleged to have been party to these calls and messages using code names. Mr. Baruca using the name ‘Ventura,’ and Mr. Lim using the name of ‘Goat,’ as well as his first name Tenny.”

Central to the U.S. application against Lim, she said, was an intercepted March 11, 2018, phone call placed by a co-operating witness to a person known as Tenny. The call contained evidence that Lim had high-quality MDMA ready to ship to a person identified in the court only as “cooperating witness No. 2.”

Watchuk said a conspiracy is complete when there is a meeting of minds between two or more people regarding something unlawful, specifically an indictable offence.

“The ROC [record of the case] establishes numerous transactions in a sophisticated cross-border drug trafficking operation. Although it does not establish that Mr. Lim was a party to every communication or transaction, the inference can be reasonably drawn from the evidence summarized,” she said.

Lim submitted that the U.S. had not proven his identity. But the judge said she must be satisfied that the person before the court is the person sought on a balance of probabilities and that there is a prima facie, or first impression, case against Lim. She found reasonable inference that phone calls and messages showed Lim conspired to traffic cocaine.

“What is clear is that CW 1 and CW 2 were communicating with someone alleged to be Mr. Lim, who used a number of monikers in the course of those communications,” she ruled.

In 2019, Lim was jailed eight years after pleading guilty to possessing heroin for the purpose of trafficking. He was caught in 2014 at Vancouver International Airport along with an Air Canada worker, Randy Norman Per. The 35 kg haul of heroin from Laos was the biggest bust for the Canada Border Services Agency’s Pacific region.

In the matter of co-accused Baruca, the case turned on his communications with someone identified only as “Orange Tang.”

But the judge said the record of the case did not disclose any agreement to buy, sell or deliver cocaine, and Baruca claimed it merely pointed to an introduction and preliminary discussions.

“While it is true that a conspirator need not know all of the details of the agreement, the agreement must nevertheless be complete,” Watchuk said. “There is no evidence that Mr. Baruca and Orange Tang ever reached a completed agreement to traffic a cocaine with [an undercover agent]. The evidence is to the contrary.”

The judge said that after Baruca discussed the possible transport of 200 kilograms of cocaine to Costa Rica and Europe, he said he would need to clarify what Orange Tang wanted to do. “That is where the matter was left,” she said. The parties were still building trust and the exchanges were at most negotiations.

Watchuk said the record of the case is a summary of a requesting state’s evidence and, by nature, it omits some evidence.

In discharging Baruca, she said: “This summary, read as a whole and with limited weighting, is bereft of sufficient evidence to found a committal.”